Peter Disowns Jesus
54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
To me this is one of the most gripping stories surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus is arrested and taken away and Peter follows from a distance. Peter finds himself in a predicament. He has told Jesus he would follow him to the end, but now it is clear that if he follows too closely, he might experience the same fate as his master. Therefore, he distances himself. When people distance themselves, they want to appear to the one they are following that they are still following, but to the crowd arround they want to appear that they are not following. When President Clinton lost the governorship of Arkansas after already serving a term, he describes how people distanced themselves from him. People who wanted to be his best friend before now wouldn’t walk across the street to be seen with him. Peter finds himself in this place. Jesus is now damaged goods.
“If I stay within Jesus’ eyesight, maybe he will think I’m following,”, Peter thought, “but I must stay far enough away that outsiders won’t know I’m with him.” But the people around weren’t fooled. There was something “fishy” about Peter. A servant girl looks at him and says, “this man was with him.” Was it his complexion that made her think this? Or maybe his eyes were swollen from crying about the events that were unfolding. We don’t really know, but somehow this girl sensed that Peter had been with Jesus.
And then the lies began. I don’t know him. Another man suspected that Peter was “one of them.” “No I’m not”, Peter lied again. I imagine Peter saying it loud enough for the people around to hear, but quiet enough that Jesus might not hear it. Maybe it was his Galilean accent. There is something to that accent thing. My trip to Israel revealed that 11 of the 12 disciples came from Northern Israel who were the country folk and looked down on by the sophisticated crowd in Jerusalem. Interestingly, the only disciple that was from near Jerusalem was Judas.
An hour passes and people’s eyes have been peering at Peter across the fire until one man blurts, “Certainly, this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” And then came the third lie. This time he acted like he didn’t even know who Jesus was. “I don’t know what you are talking about.” The words hadn’t come out of his mouth and the most famous rooster in history crowed. He crowed for all of us who have ever distanced ourselves from Jesus. He crowed for everyone who wanted to appear as if they were a disciple in front of Jesus, but who were ashamed of him in front of the world. The killer line for me is that “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” It was a look that spoke volumes. For me the look said, “Remember how you said you would follow me?” The look also said, “I know you are denying me.” I think the look may also have said, “I love you in spite of your denials.” But as I meditated on this, it seemed I could hear in that look, “You can’t escape me, you smell like fish.” By this I don’t mean that Peter literally smelled like fish, but the ancient symbol for Christianity was a fish. Peter who was a fisherman often smelled like fish because he was around fish all the time. In Christ, if we spend time with Jesus we can’t hide the fact that we associate with him. We may try to hide it, but the imprint of Jesus should make an irrevocable impression on who we are.
Those people who were intending to implicate Peter for his association with Jesus were giving him a huge compliment as well as to all of us who daily spend time with Jesus. They in essence were saying of all of us-They smell like fish.