Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. "Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You'd rather eat and be served, right? But I've taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you've stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God's people.
"Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start."
Peter said, "Master, I'm ready for anything with you. I'd go to jail for you. I'd die for you!"
Jesus said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Peter, but before the rooster crows you will have three times denied that you know me."
Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said, "This man was with him!" He denied it, "Woman, I don't even know him."
A short time later, someone else noticed him and said, "You're one of them."
But Peter denied it: "Man, I am not."
About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: "He's got to have been with him! He's got 'Galilean' written all over him."
Peter said, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about." At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." He went out and cried and cried and cried.
Peter seeks to be the perfect disciple. He fails, and is absolutely desolate. But Jesus told him he would betray him. Peter is not ready, or rather it is not necessary for him to make such a stand. He fails to hear Jesus telling him so. Perhaps Jesus’ words should be read as less of a prediction and more as a gentle warning: ‘Don’t do this to yourself, Peter’.
In our discipleship, are we like Peter, striving to be the perfect disciple? So busy trying so hard, relying on our own resources, that we fail to hear the words of Jesus to us: ‘Do not do this to yourself; it is not what I require’?
Peter’s time came. His faith was tested: we are told in the Acts of the Apostles he had to change his mind and be open to God in a dream. And tradition tells us he was ultimately tested when he too faced crucifixion.
And we too face our own tests of faith. They will come; we don’t need to create them for ourselves. We don’t need to seek to prove we are the perfect disciples. Instead we need simply and prayerfully to be open to the wonder of God’s grace working in us now. God loves us and knows us as we are, and if we let him he will use who we are now to his glory.
O Jesus, stretch forth your wounded hands over your people to heal and to restore, and to draw us to yourself and to one another in love. Amen.