The fourth Station of the Cross is Peter’s denial of Jesus. From The Message:
All this time, Peter was sitting out in the courtyard. One servant girl came up to him and said, “You were with Jesus the Galilean.”
In front of everybody there, he denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
As he moved over toward the gate, someone else said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.”
Again he denied it, salting his denial with an oath: “I swear, I never laid eyes on the man.”
Shortly after that, some bystanders approached Peter. “You’ve got to be one of them. Your accent gives you away.”
Then he got really nervous and swore. “I don’t know the man!”
Just then a rooster crowed. Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and cried and cried and cried.
And the NRSV says:
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before all of them, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ Again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.
Poor Peter. It seems like he can never catch a break. He stumbles and bumbles, says the wrong thing, jumps into situations without really understanding them — even gets called Satan by his best friend Jesus! We don’t like to admit it, at least, not in front of anyone else, but we are all Peter. I know I stumble and bumble and say the wrong thing. Words come out of my mouth before my brain has engaged. And yet Peter, this coarse and bumbling fisherman, this impulsive man: he is the foundation for the church of Jesus.
At this point in the story, Jesus has been arrested and the disciples scattered. They know what usually happens when a prophet or teacher is arrested: the authorities want to swiftly and completely stamp out the cult. So they round up the followers, as many as they can find, and they don’t hesitate to ask for names. Peter is expecting to be snatched up and imprisoned at any moment. Even though he is desperate to find out what’s happening with his beloved teacher Jesus, Peter is terrified that he will be the next one arrested. After all, Peter is the foundation for the church of Jesus, and Jesus has said this in the presence of others. It’s a dead cinch that somebody will give up Peter’s name… if not Jesus, then one of the other disciples who have certainly been picked up.
It’s easy to understand why Peter would snap at people who accuse him of knowing Jesus. He’s afraid, and with good reason. He isn’t ready to die yet! He has a wife and a mother-in-law to support, and most likely has children, too. Who will take care of them, if Peter is arrested in Jerusalem? He is in a desperate and terrifying situation, and he can’t see any way out.
Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t any way out… not any way that is a quick escape. No, sometimes the only way out is forward, through the pain, until we re-emerge into the light. For Peter, there are a few dark days ahead. He will hide, fearing for his life, afraid to be there with and for his friend Jesus when Jesus is killed. Peter will hide through the Sabbath, unable to do anything to distract himself from the fear. Peter will hide until the women visit the tomb on Sunday morning, to finish the work of preparing the body that had been so quickly put aside when the sun set on Friday night.
And so, he weeps. Peter weeps bitterly. The Message says that he cried and cried and cried. I’m sure he was angry with himself, playing all kind of what if and if only I’d games in his mind, playing and replaying the scenario at Gethsemane, when Jesus was arrested, trying to avert the certain disaster that will come down upon all of them. In Peter’s shoes, I probably would have been not only weeping bitterly, but telling God just exactly what I thought of God at that moment. God, why did you send him here, only to let him be killed? How can he save our people if he’s dead? How can he be our king, when the Romans flog him and crucify him? What were you thinking, God? How could you get this all so completely wrong? Oh yes, my thoughts would be bitter, too; I have no doubt.
See, Peter is confronting a lesson that God has to teach us again and again and again. I know that I’ve had this lesson several dozen times, and I’m sure it will be at least a dozen dozen more times before I’m done. I’m not in control. We’re not in control. Peter, poor bumbling Peter, certainly wasn’t in control. And when we reach these places where it feels like every last bit of control has been stripped from us, we feel bitter. We may weep, or shout, or complain to God. The psalms are full of bitter complaints to God: how long, O Lord? Just exactly how daggoned long are we going to have to suffer? We want to feel in control, of our selves, of our homes, of our lives. But we’re not. Only God is in control, and when we try to butt our heads up against this and out-stubborn God, then we’re only setting ourselves up for defeat. For frustration. For bitterness.
I like to think that, when Peter reached the end of his bitter tears, once he’d cried himself out, that he found a quiet place to pray. God, I’m sorry. I don’t know what your plan is for Jesus, and I don’t know what your plan is for me. I’m so tired, and I’m so afraid, and I feel so alone. Help me to find the rest of our friends, and help us to know what to do. Guide us, God. Guide us out of these dark times. Please, God. I don’t know what to do.