Today is Maundy Thursday. The day derives its name from the “command” (Latin, mandatum) Jesus gives his disciples to love one another (John 13:34). Unlike John, however, Mark records neither the command nor the footwashing that so powerfully exemplified it. Rather, he focuses on six events: the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-26), Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial of him (14:27-31), his Gethsemane prayer (14:32-42), his betrayal and arrest (14:43-52), his Sanhedrin trial (14:53-65), and Peter’s denial (14:66-72). In this post, I would like to focus on Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial of him (14:27-31).
It is amazing how self-deceived we all can be about the true state of our spiritual vitality. In verse 27, Jesus makes this prediction, backed up by a prophecy from Zechariah 13:7: “You will all fall away, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” Amazingly, and somewhat arrogantly, Peter replies, “Even if all fall away, I will not” (verse 29).
This is an amazing reply on a number of levels. First, like the crowds that welcomed Jesus at his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Peter believed that Jesus was Israel’s long-expected Messiah (Mark 8:29). One is amazed at the easy impudence with which Peter contradicts his king. Second, according to the passage just cited, Peter has already been rebuked by Jesus for contradicting him about his crucifixion. One would think that Peter might have learned to hold his tongue on matters pertaining to Jesus’ future. Amazingly, however he does not.
And that brings us to why this is such an arrogant reply. “Even if all fall away,” Peter says, “I will not.” Peter has such a high view of himself that he contradicts Jesus and distances himself from the other disciples at the same time. Given Jesus’ rebuke of him as “Satan” (Mark 8:33), you would think Peter might talk with a bit more humility, but he doesn’t.
It’s easy to pick on Peter, all too easy. But if twelve men who had been with Jesus for three years, heard him say what he said, watched him do what he did, and had performed similar actions themselves at his command – if these twelve men couldn’t stick with him through his trials, what makes us think we would have?
As I said, our capacity for self-deception about our own spiritual vitality is amazing. What is the remedy? Several things, it seems.
First, we must be humble. Why, according to John, did Jesus wash the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17)? In order to set an example which they should follow (verse 15). After three years, it seems, the disciples still did not understand the intent and motives of their Master. So he had to paint a picture in vivid colors and bold relief of what he wanted them to do.
Second, we must be sympathetic. If Peter and the others could not withstand the test of Jesus’ passion, then perhaps we should be sympathetic about their failures and the failures of others. This does not mean that we excuse anyone’s failures, but it does mean that we not stand in judgment against them. We have the same failings as they do, after all.
And third, we must be forgiving. Jesus’ was realistic about the low spiritual vitality of his disciples. He knew they would fail. But he also knew they could be restored: “But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (Mark 14:28). It was as if he was planting a seed of hope in their minds. After failure, redemption; after Jerusalem, Galilee.
This is a promise to us too.