Thirty-Seventh Day of Lent

Luke 22:54-62
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.

It’s one of the most tired of all sporting clichés, the description of the sportsperson who “puts their body on the line” for their team or their country. I understand what it means though and I recognise that whole-hearted commitment when I see it, the willingness to put aside your own welfare for the sake of a win. And I’m glad I don’t play competitive sport any more!

This passage is much more serious than sport, but the same single-minded commitment is called for, to put your body on the line.

There is a sense in which this section of Luke’s presentation is one of the climaxes of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, particularly on the issue of discipleship. Twice in the Gospel Luke makes a point about the single-mindedness required of someone who wants to follow Jesus, and he does it in the context of saving or losing one’s life.

In Luke 9:23-26 Jesus says a disciple must be prepared to pick up her cross and follow in the way of Jesus. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it,” (Luke 9:24). Then he says one of the most difficult and challenging things of all, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25).

In Luke 17:32-33 Jesus says, “Remember Lot’s wife!” It’s a strange comment but it appears in the context of not looking back, but being single-minded about what is ahead. Once you embark on this journey there is no turnaround. And it’s difficult.

And so we have this sad, and unfortunate event round the fire in the courtyard. It is surely not a surprise that Peter follows at a distance, (Luke 22:54), this is most probably a description of circumstances and a symbol of where Peter’s heart was at this moment. He wanted to be there, beside Jesus. That was Peter in his very best desires for himself. But he was scared too, and so he was half in and half out.

Peter denies Jesus (Luke 22:57), he denies Jesus’ followers, his friends (Luke 22:58), and finally he even denies ethnic identification with this man Jesus (Luke 22:59-60).

Peter must have burned with shame. 

It may very well be that Jesus turned to look at him out of some divine knowledge, but actually it could also have been real intuition and insight into the human psyche, and Peter’s mind in particular. Jesus knows that we are all a real mixture of deep fear and astounding courage. But whatever the reason Jesus looked, when their eyes locked Peter’s heart broke.

For Jesus knows how hard it is to be single-minded, and to go right to the end, to put your body on the line.

A friend told me once of an archaeological dig she had observed at an old monastic site in Scotland. She said the archaeologists  were struggling with the dating of the dig and were confused because the bones of the monks from medieval times that they had uncovered all had shin splints consistent with over exercise. She was able to tell them that before a certain point in history monks were forbidden from travelling on mules or horses and that wherever they took the Gospel message they had to walk. The shin splints were the injuries of those who single-mindedly walked the Gospel message throughout Britain.

It makes me wonder how single-minded I am for Jesus and the Gospel? What indignity and discomfort am I willing to endure to follow close to Jesus, or whether the instinct for self-preservation is too strong and making me follow at a distance.

This Holy Week can be the proving of one or the other.

Lord Jesus
I confess I’m no super-Christian
Though I’d love to be.

I’d love to be undivided in my affections.
I’d love to be fearless in my commitment
And bold in my risk-taking
For the Gospel.

And at my best I’m all of these things

But then I scare easily.
I worry too much about the future, about family,
About money and relationships and reputation
And a whole host of other things
Which you call me to leave behind
For the sake of following hard after you.

So this week, as I contemplate your final days
Before the ultimate betrayal
I’ll try to be loyal and true.

Thank you that you’ll be gracious to me
And that should I fail and fall again,
I know you will  restore me
As you did poor Peter
At the end


Twenty-Second Day of Lent

Luke 22:47-53
47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.’

Most scholars treat yesterday’s miracle of the healing of the blind man as the closing miracle of Luke’s Gospel, but then this appears. It’s an odd one. But would you believe this story is related in all four Gospels, though only in John are the characters named (Simon Peter chops off Malchus’ ear). And only Luke relates the healing.

It is also a miracle that I remember from when I was a young child. I don’t know why it should have captured my attention, other than perhaps the prospect of Jesus searching the ground by torchlight looking for a stray ear.

But as I read it today, I am struck by crowds and violence. Jesus remarks that they have come with swords and clubs (Luke 22:52). When the disciples discern that Jesus is to be arrested their initial reaction is to draw swords and though they look to Jesus for advice, before Jesus says a word someone strikes and a man is wounded.

This whole journey through Lent with the book of Luke is a journey of discipleship. Along the way we are encountering the wonder and the strangeness of Jesus, we marvel at his power and compassion, particularly for those who are on the margins. Again and again we are confronted with the challenge of following him and with question of just what will I surrender to join him on the Way.

The pressure has been building on Jesus and his followers for some time now. Many thought going to Jerusalem was a foolish thing but he was insistent. And now, following a meal which was full of all manner of hints of endings, they are in this garden in the dead of night where he has spent a long time in intense prayer. Luke records that in his anguish his sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44).

And now this. A big crowd with swords and clubs and a kiss of betrayal.

I understand the impulse of the disciple. Under the shock of betrayal this is a common form of response. Meet the violence of betrayal with another form of violence. Perhaps it is even more true if it is a loved one who is betrayed and I must stand by. I want to strike out on their behalf to find some answer to the anger and sense of helplessness I feel.

But there is a Gospel message here. Meeting violence with violence is not the way of Jesus. His urgent command “No more of this!” speaks to the moment, but also for all time. No more of this. Ever.

No more to seeking God’s imprimatur on our national adventures of war.

No more to matching an eye with an eye or a tooth with a tooth. Nor here, an ear for a kiss.

No more to blind rage and vengeful aggression. No more to hard words which injure and maim the spirit of a person.

I dare say this poor servant didn’t have much control over what he was doing that night. After all, he was a servant, and he did as he was commanded. And he lost an ear. There is something symbolic here in a member of the high priest’s household lacking an ear. He stood in for a religious institution that couldn’t hear the truth of what was being said in the ministry of this man from God.

So Jesus in his grace and humility refuses to be vengeful or to take comfort in the suffering of his accusers, and instead he heals. There is still time for healing even after striking out in anger, frustration and revenge.

And so I ask myself after having reflected on this story. Which is the worst betrayal here? The kiss or the sword?

As I write this March 29th remains the day we exit the EU. So today is the day when the nation might be taking stock. Whatever happens a sizeable proportion of the country is going to feel betrayed, the question is what will be done with that sense of betrayal? Will we strike out at our betrayers? Or will we seek advantage through a lying kiss? Take some time today to pray for our political leaders and for those who feel betrayed by recent events.