Mark 14:66-72

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed.

And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.”

At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72

What motivates us to deny the truth? It really isn’t all that complicated. Doesn’t it usually have something to do with either what we hope to get, or what we hope to avoid? And in that, doesn’t denying the truth usually flow from a place of self-interest? Beyond that, isn’t it true that, if you deny reality consistently, relentlessly, shamelessly, you might have the power to replace reality in peoples’ minds with a new version of the truth that better serves your purposes?

We learn that lesson in childhood. We learn it as we contort the truth to “get away with something.” If it works, we do it again. If it keeps on working, we keep on doing it. If we keep on doing it, it becomes a feature of our character. It might even come to define us.

Peter said, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” This is quite obviously a lie. This isn’t fake news, alternative facts, or a hoax. This is a lie. A lie told to a servant girl. Peter not only knew he was lying, it must have bothered him so much that, Mark tells us, he immediately left the side of the fire and escaped into the courtyard.

But she wasn’t done. Again she named the reality that Peter was a follower of Jesus. Again he lied. Others joined in, each proclaiming the truth, again he lied. Only then, hearing the sound of the cock crowing, does what he had done hit him. He broke down and wept.

Why did a simple, powerless, servant girl have such power over Peter that she could cause him to deny even knowing the man who Peter had pledged his life to protect? Because she wasn’t powerless. Despite her place on a humanly created pecking order of her place on the social hierarchy, she possessed the only power that rises to the level of love – she possessed the truth.

The power she wielded over Peter was the power of truth. She held the truth against him and he crumbled. To protect himself. He lied.

There are only two bits of good news in this story of Peter’s denial. One is the power of the truth. The other is that Peter broke down and wept. He knew what he did was wrong. He wasn’t shameless, he was broken. His tears were honest tears.

Whenever I read the story of Peter’s denial I remember how John would later write the Jesus story. At the end, after Jesus rose from the dead, he shows up along the side of the Sea of Galilee to cook breakfast for the disciples who had spent the night fishing. They had returned to their old lives. When Peter sees Jesus on the shore he dives into the water and swims into his presence. We know why. We know what Peter was seeking. Mercy. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. And that is exactly what he received.

And then Jesus gave him a gift. Jesus gave him a sense of purpose. Love my sheep. Feed my sheep. Live, not for yourself, but for the sake of others. The truth set Peter free.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we’re not shocked by Peter’s denial. We’ve heard the story before. This time, let this story speak deeply into our hearts, calling to mind the many times and many ways that we have ran from the truth in self-serving ways. You named the evil one the “father of lies” and you promised that it would be the truth that would set us free. May we trust that to be true. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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