The writer of the Fourth Gospel loves a dramatic scene. There are some serious contrasts here. If we were writing a script for this, we would flash back and forth between Peter in the courtyard and Jesus in the garden and then in front of the high priests.
In the garden, at the betrayal, there are 600 soldiers. A detachment is an enormous number of soldiers, greatly outsized compared to the threat that Jesus might pose. Of course, if they think there is a possibility that he is God… then the more soldiers, the better. Jesus knows what they are about. When they say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus says, “I am.” It sounds better to our ears to finish the sentence as “I am he.” However, the Jewish ears that first heard this gospel pricked up at the “I am.” Where else do we hear that phrase?
It is how God speaks to Moses through the burning bush, when Moses asks for God’s name. God replies, “I am.” Now Jesus uses the same phrase and is carried away. Every set of Jewish ears in that garden would have been burning, whether or not they were cut off.
Now to the courtyard scene, Peter gets into the courtyard through a friend’s recommendation. This is not likely one of the other 12 disciples we traditionally think of- those disciples would not have had the social connections or power to get Peter in to the high priest’s house. This is more likely to be a disciple like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. The person knows Peter and says, “He’s with me.”
Thus, Peter is in the courtyard, warming his hands- looking around with wide eyes at opulence that is a far cry from his upbringing in Galilee by the sea. He’s nervous and worried. Of what is Peter afraid?
- Dying… (ultimate concern)
So Peter, when recognized, denies being with Jesus. In John, Peter has a very clear response, “I am not.” Are you one of the disciples, aren’t you the man we saw, You’re a disciple- right? “I am not.”
Peter says, “I am not.” Jesus says, “I am.”
We know that Judas betrays Jesus. We know that the crowd is going to cry, “Crucify him.” Yet, Peter’s “I am not”. Peter’s desire to save his hide. Peter’s unwillingness to say, “Let me die with him.” It’s worse. It cuts to the bone.
“I am,” says Jesus. Peter says, “I am not.”
We are talking about stewardship during this season of reflection. In particular, we are in a chapter together of looking at how we use our resources- how we support this community, our synod, the larger church, and the needs of the world for the sake of Christ.
In this time of more focused discipline, we are called to look at our checkbooks, our bank statements, our credit card receipts, our tax refunds, our tax payments, our church’s spending plan, and ask what they reveal. Do they show us as standing with Jesus? Do they reflect the kind of dedication to God’s work that we want them to?
My checkbook shows that I give a lot of money to the College Foundation (the place that holds my education loans) and to Fred Meyer. Am I a disciple of CFI or Fred Meyer? I am not.
Are you a disciple of your mortgage? Of your debts? Of your habits? Of your addictions? Of other non-profit groups?
What about your schedule? I don’t just mean how often are you here in church, but how much of your time is spent with Scripture? In prayer? In communicating closeness and care to people in your community? Are you a disciple of television, of your hobbies, of your chores, of your work, of your health?
Can you truthfully say “I am not” to all of those? Do you have a good reason that you want to tell me later or that you want to tell someone else in the car later (wherein you’ll say that I just don’t understand)? But I do understand. I understand all too well. Just because I’m up here doesn’t mean I identify with Jesus. I’m there with Peter.
And I’m guessing you might be too.
But we don’t have to be.
Despite Peter’s unfaithfulness, Jesus didn’t abandon him. Jesus would later give Peter a chance to make up for his denial. Jesus remains faithful. Jesus, and God in Jesus, remains the “I am”. When we say, “I am not”- God in Christ says, “I am.”
I can’t (God can.)
I won’t (God will)
I don’t (God does)
It is this faithfulness that we count on, that is the Source of Life that both sends us out and draws us in. It is this Faithfulness that gives us the strength to live into repentance, into turning around, into people who are not afraid to claim lives of discipleship with our money, with our time, with our families, with all that God has given us.
Stewardship that puts God first isn’t about austerity or humiliation. It’s about celebrating God’s abundance in our lives- relationships, resources, resurrection. It’s about listening for where Jesus says, “I am” and responding with sincerity, “I am with him.”