Scripture can be found here…
Working Preacher commentary by Bishop Craig Satterlee can be found here…
We Narrative Lectionary preachers find ourselves in the extraordinary position of preaching on Holy Week events for a full six weeks in this year of John. Another unique feature of the Fourth Gospel is the fact that fully half of the text is devoted to what scholars sometimes refer to as “the book of Glory,” the events beginning with the entry into Jerusalem (12:12-19) and culminating with crucifixion, resurrection, and their aftermath.
The lectionary has skipped from action to action, moving from the Thursday night events of supper followed by footwashing (13:1-17) and picking up at the moment Jesus is arrested (18:12). A vital exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter has been skipped as well:
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. ~John 13:36-38
Chapters 14-17, the “farewell discourse,” are not treated here either. Instead we move swiftly into Jesus’ arrest and interrogation by Annas, as well as Simon Peter’s and another (unnamed, but apparently well-connected) disciple’s attempts to follow Jesus and stay informed about what was happening to him.
The narrative skips back and forth between scenes involving Jesus and those involving Simon Peter.
Verses 12-14: Jesus is arrested (by Roman police as well as “Jewish” police– probably Temple police; even though the Pharisees are identified as being part of the arresting group, they did not have their own police force). He is taken to Annas, father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas. The narrator reminds us of Caiaphas’ statement, made immediately after the raising of Lazarus, that “it is better” for one man to die than for the whole nation to “be destroyed” (11:49-52).
Verses 15-18: Simon Peter and the unnamed disciple follow after Jesus. The unnamed disciple’s connections with the high priest enable him to follow Jesus into the courtyard (and, presumably, report on the exchange between Jesus and his interrogators). Peter remains outside the gate until the other disciple persuades a the woman who guards the gate to allow him in. The woman asks Peter if he is a disciple of Jesus’. He replies “I am not.” He takes his place around a fire with slaves and police who are warming themselves.
Verses 19-24: Jesus is interrogated by Annas, whose exact words/ questions we never hear directly; only that he questioned Jesus “about” his disciples and his teaching. Jesus’ defense is to point to the openness with which he has taught. He urges the high priest to question those who have heard him in temple and synagogue. This answer provokes one of the temple police to strike him across the face. He remains resolute in his own defense, insisting that he has spoken the truth.
Verses 25-27: Simon Peter is asked, again, whether he is one of Jesus’ disciples (“they” asked him, indicating the group around the charcoal fire). Again he replies “I am not.” Finally, the high priest’s slave tells Peter he saw him in the garden with Jesus. Simon Peter denies it, and at that moment, the cock crows, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction.
This passage contrasts the brave, truthful, and prophetic voice of Jesus with Simon Peter’s fearful falsehoods. Jesus speaks plainly; Peter lies and evades. Jesus suffers physically for his truth-telling; Peter suffers (we can infer) the emotional, psychic blow of Jesus’ prediction coming true as he hears the cock crow after his third denial.
Jesus is portrayed throughout the fourth gospel as being in control and moving deliberately toward his arrest, conviction, and crucifixion. His disciples, on the other hand, are portrayed as not understanding his identity or his destiny, and positioning themselves in opposition to what Jesus sees as inevitable (earlier in chapter 18, Simon Peter draws a sword in Jesus’ defense when the police attempt to arrest him). In a sense, there are no surprises in this passage: Jesus is resolute and faithful under interrogation, and Peter crumples at the first sign of someone identifying him with Jesus.
A focus on Jesus’ faithfulness, and, frankly, the simplicity of his speech here. He is uncharacteristically (for this gospel) succinct, and thoroughly understandable.
A look at all Peter’s appearances in this gospel, in an attempt to flesh out who is the man who “denies Jesus.” While some caution against a focus on Peter here, his story is ultimately one of faithful service to the gospel. His collapse here under pressure only serves to underscore the healing properties of forgiveness and grace in the long term.
For those interested in creating a vivid portrayal of the scene, a first person monologue from the woman guarding the gate or one of the other unnamed characters by the fire, such as a temple police officer, offers some creative opportunities.
I’m eager to hear how my sister and brother Narrative Lectionary preachers will tackle this piece of the Holy Week story. Please share your approach/ thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!