Mark 14: 27-31; 43-50
Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.”
28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ 29Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ 30Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ 31But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.
43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ 45So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. 46Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ 50All of them deserted him and fled.
In the musical, Lil’ Abner we meet Abner Yocum and Daisy Mae Scragg of Dogpatch.
Both are of marrying age.
Daisy Mae has been after Abner for a long time.
But Abner does not return her affections.
He is unable to because he drinks his mother’s Yocum berry tonic every day which prevents him from having any attraction to Daisy Mae.
Yet somehow, Abner knows that he and Daisy Mae are destined to get married.
But Abner just can’t commit.
He wants to, but can’t.
Daisy Mae suggests to Abner that he let her catch him on Sadie Hawkins day, when the local women can choose a husband, as long as they can catch the man they want.
Abner is not sure he can do that.
But he promises to try.
Daisy Mae has Abner visualize being caught by her as a way to encourage Abner to let it happen.
She describes the hunt, the approach, the reaching out, the grab.
Can Abner imagine it, too?
He smiles and says he can.
But then Abner tells Daisy Mae that he sees himself racing off into the woods just before Daisy Mae can catch him.
For Abner, letting Daisy Mae catch him is a promise Abner can’t deliver.
Have you ever experienced something like that?
Someone promises to do something for you, then doesn’t?
Have you ever done something like that?
Told someone you were going to do something and then … well … not done it?
A promise made that was more than could be delivered?
Why does that happen?
Some people are just dishonest sociopaths and will promise anything to get something from you, without intending to ever do what they promised to do in return.
Others overestimate their ability to do what was promised, and when they realize it, just walk away.
But often promises are broken simply because of misunderstandings.
We have made a commitment to someone or something but are uncertain what is really expected of us.
Where we are not sure what we are supposed to do.
So, we do something, hoping we are right, only to find we have botched the whole thing.
Today’s text is a nice illustration of something like that.
And as usual, Peter is right in the middle of it.
If out text were theater, we would be in the second act.
Act I is The Last Supper.
Jesus has gathered with the disciples for Passover.
He has announced that one of the disciples was going to betray him and that his blood would be the new covenant between God and God’s people.
Now Act II begins.
Jesus and the 11 are walking to the Mount of Olives.
On the way Jesus turns to his disciples and says:
“You will all slip away from me tonight, leaving me alone.”
“The Prophet Zechariah has predicted this.”
Jesus says, “Oh, yeah, Peter you, too.”
“Within the next few hours you will deny even knowing who I am three times!”
“Not me,” says Peter, “I am with you to the end, Jesus.”
“Even if it means my death, I will not abandon you!”
The chorus of the remaining 10 all chime in.
“Us, too, Jesus!”
“We won’t let you down.”
Can’t you imagine Jesus’ eye roll?
Right after that, Jesus prays in Gethsemane and Peter, who is to keep watch … well … falls asleep.
Then Judas shows up with the mob to seize Jesus.
Swords and torches.
There is a brief skirmish, a sword is pulled, an ear cut off, but in the end, as Mark describes it:
All of them deserted him and fled.
Peter and the rest have promised more than they could deliver, right?
They would stay to the end, right?
Until the mob shows up.
Then they abandon of Jesus.
And we think that Jesus must have been deeply hurt.
That this is the beginning of the “passion”.
But consider this.
From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he surrounded himself with disciples.
He tried to teach them who he was and why he came.
He knew they wouldn’t understand any of it until he rose from the dead, but he taught them anyway so that when he did rise from the dead, they would get it!
Sins forgiven, death defeated, life in the Kingdom of God.
Now think for a moment.
If the disciples were to see Jesus resurrected, they needed to be alive to see that, right?
The plan also called for the disciples to go and “preach the good news to all creation”.
They had to be alive to do that, too, right?
So, when Jesus was telling Peter and the rest that they were going to run away, citing scripture to boot, he was actually describing how the disciples were going to stay alive!
Jesus on stage:
“I need to go it alone from here guys!”
“You need to do whatever you must to stay alive.”
“You need to go away and hide.”
Then Jesus says something that is easily missed.
Don’t worry guys, … after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.
They would all get together after the resurrection.
So their flight from the mob was not the end of their relationship with Jesus.
Which is exactly what happened.
They did meet in Galilee and they did finally understand who Jesus was and why he came.
And because they survived, they could pass that on.
Many believe Peter’s memories became the Gospel of Mark.
But we have jumped ahead.
Back to our text and our play.
Peter is alone on stage.
Jesus has just told him he will run away and deny Jesus.
He is rubbing his chin.
Peter shares his thoughts in a soliloquy.
“Jesus said someone is going to betray him.”
“I don’t want to be that guy, right?”
“I’m not going to do anything that might look like “betrayal”.”
“Then Jesus said that his blood will be poured out as the new covenant between God and us.”
“I don’t want to keep that from happening, right?”
“I need to walk a fine line between ‘no betrayal’ and ‘let Jesus do what he has to do.”
“What to do, what to do?”
“I’ve got it!”
“I will stick with Jesus, and if he dies, I will die, too.”
“No betrayal, a disciple to the end!”
What Peter misses is that Jesus’ plan requires Peter to live.
So, when Peter tells Jesus they will die together, Peter is doing exactly what he does not want to do.
He is screwing it all up.
Jesus is not worried, though.
Jesus knows that Peter has promised more than Peter can deliver.
Peter and the boys are not going to die with him.
They will run.
Not because they are cowards, but because self-preservation is human nature.
So, when Peter runs off with the rest, he is unknowingly doing what Jesus expects.
Peter was expected to survive, and he did.
So, it turns out that Peter promised more than he could deliver, but also more than what was required of him.
What Jesus wanted from him.
Which raises a question.
What does Jesus want from us?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that when Jesus calls you “he bids you to come and die!”
Is that what discipleship means?
This was a big issue for the Roman Christians who were the audience for Mark’s Gospel.
To be a Christian in Rome during the first century meant that you might really die.
Some Roman Christians promised to die as rather than deny Jesus.
That was a promise they could keep.
Others could not keep such a promise and denied Jesus to stay alive.
Was that some kind of betrayal?
Well, that is exactly what Peter did, right?
And Peter was the rock upon which Jesus built his community.
This story would have been of great comfort for those who denied Jesus to save their lives.
It should be great comfort for us, too.
While some can promise to die rather than deny, others can’t promise much of anything at all.
So, what is it Jesus expects?
He expects us to love him.
And do the best we can to follow him.
Jesus also expects us to know that he loves us.
That even though we often promise more than we can deliver, we are forgiven.
Jesus’ blood was shed for that.
That is what happened with Peter.
It’s what will happen with us.
Calvin put it this way:
Peter’s fall … brilliantly mirrors our own infirmity. … The story told of one man contains teaching of general, and indeed prime, benefit for the whole church; it teaches those who stand to take care and caution; it encourages the fallen to trust in pardon.
And because Peter and the rest did run off, we, disciples of Jesus, are still here.
And because many Roman Christians ran off, we are still here.
And even though we “run off” from time to time in our lives, we are still here.
That is one reason we come to church.
One reason we come to this table.
To tell the world we are still here!
I like the way Rischard Voelz puts it:
We know all too well out tendencies to live in denial of our discipleship.
We gather in churches, at camps, at retreat centers, and in other places, in order to renew our commitment as disciples.
We confess our sins, we put our hands in baptismal waters, we will celebrate the Lord’s supper and we say the creed one more time, but not to prove Jesus’ prediction of our flight wrong.
To prove that we are still here.
Surely, that is a promise we can deliver.