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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.

Sermon possibilities:

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!

31 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Two Interrogations

  1. I think there is some wonderful (dark) humor here. Jesus says “I’ve taught openly–ask the people who heard what I said and they will tell you.” Meanwhile Peter is just outside saying “No, Jesus who? Never met him.” I mean really–it’s kind of hilarious in a sad way.

    This morning I awoke pondering whether I might be able to make a connection between this story and that old adage that “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car.” It isn’t Peter’s presence there that makes him a disciple…that will have to come through practice.

    This week we are singing Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult and Faith Begins By Letting Go. In the middle I have us down to sing “God, How Can We Forgive” (445 in the new presbyterian hymnal) but I’m second guessing that a bit…

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    1. YES! Oh my goodness, that is WONDERFUL.

      I have a confession to make: I am not preaching this text this Sunday, but next Sunday– I have an infant baptism this week, and just couldn’t feature the denial of Peter and Jesus hauled before the authorities. Maybe for an adult….

      So I am preaching on the “I AM the Vine passage,” getting to fill in a bit.

      But when I come back to this the following week– YES, I am so with you in this. Thanks Teri!

        + + +

      Rev. Pat Raube

      Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

      1 John 4:7

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  2. I too was struck by Jesus saying…look I have done nothing behind your backs…it has all be in the open. (sub-text…and what you all did was not). Not sure if I’ll play there or not. I was struck in the WP commentary about this being so much more about Jesus’ faithfulness rather than Peter’s denial.

    I thought about starting with denial…yada yada yada…and then flip it to focusing on what Jesus did and can we “stand beside Jesus instead of around the charcoal fire”.

    Another thought is using Parker Palmer’s “living an undivided life” and using his mobius strip example. I do have ribbon which would work for them to visualize that.

    Whatever…need to decide!

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    1. I very much like your plan for organizing the sermon: starting with denial, moving to faithfulness. It fits in with what I’m convinced is the correct focus for worship– having a movement towards the good news. Thanks Elaine!

        + + +

      Rev. Pat Raube

      Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

      1 John 4:7

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  3. One commentator I read yesterday said the two models of response to persecution (Jesus and Peter) would have been available in this story for John’s original audience. But that’s too black-and-white for me, too shaming for those for whom its not always easy, maybe too obvious an answer. Anyone would say Jesus is the model to follow.

    So what about when we aren’t able to stand with Jesus every single time, and we sometimes hang out at the burning barrel warming our hands with the cool kids?

    While I “hear” workingpreacher say this story is more about Jesus than Peter, I’m going to focus on Peter to talk about the grays of life. It’s easy to demonize Judas. Easy to pick Jesus as the proper model. It’s harder to look at Peter who is enthusiastic and faithful, and then isn’t sometimes and doesn’t always get it.

    And still, Jesus washed both of their feet. And Peter moved on in the abundant life Jesus offers.

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    1. I’m definitely drawn to Peter as well. You’re right– everyone else is at the extreme edge of too perfect, too awful. Peter feels real to me, in all four gospels, and I will probably focus on him as being our stand-ins in the story.

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      1. Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that this gospel is a story for and about the community that first heard it. They were divided, tempted to deny their commitment to Christ and to each other. I would tend away from comparing individuals and toward our collective denials and betrayals.

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    2. I agree AP…it is easy to make Judas the scapegoat. I think “how” it is preached is imperative…tone of voice, choice of words, offering that we do like to hang with the “cool kids”…BTW…thanks for that phrase.

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  4. Peter experienced a self-induced traumatic injury to his soul…something that could have paralyzed him in self-pity for the rest of his life – a “rock bottom” for the rock. Somehow, I am going to tie that to Amy Purdy’s cha-cha last night on Dancing with the Stars – I watched her TED speech today.

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    1. Lea, could you say more about that? Don’t watch DWTS, though I know it is a fun, beloved show. But I am in favor of bringing the cha-cha into a sermon on principle.

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      1. Sure – I’ll try! Peter had this injury to his soul that could have stopped him completely. His failure at this critical moment could have gone on to be the defining moment of his life – one that he could never move past. But, as others have said, he found a way back to God (or God found a way back to him). His spiritual injury was no longer an end point, but a place to push off into a new, stronger discipleship.

        Amy Purdy lost both legs to bacterial meningitis. That could have been her defining moment. But, instead, it became a place for her to push off into other directions…directions where her weakness became a part of her strength.

        She is a snowboarding champion now. A motivational speaker. And, a contestant on DWTS who did a mean cha-cha. Google her name and cha-cha and you can watch her. That challenge makes her even more fun and inspiring to watch. Peter’s challenge makes him fun to watch to when he takes off on a new dance with the full power of the Holy Spirit. Does any of that make sense?

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    2. Love this. I also am seeing Peter at “rock bottom,” and telling this story again and again until people have heard it so much they’ve memorized the details (it’s in all four gospels with the same details, save a rooster crow or two!). It’s his story of God’s grace to him, even in his worst moment. I hear him using this story in sermons for YEARS to come, and I think I’m going to title my sermon, “What’s Your Story?”

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  5. I, too, feel drawn to talking about Peter. I love Peter because his bad days make me feel a lot better about myself. This same man – the rock on which the church is built, the man who speaks so well at Pentecost, the man who five minutes ago told Jesus he’d never wash his feet (and then wanted his head and hands washed too, to fully ensure he was as close as possible to Jesus), this man denies Jesus because he is afraid. He denies him three times and we can almost hear his heart sink as the cock crows. Instantly, he knows what he has done. Instantly, he feels deep regret and shame.

    And yet, he comes back. He doesn’t go the way of Judas. Jesus’ forgiveness, God’s grace mean that Peter is still able to be the rock. He’s still able to be a devoted follower. Perhaps because of his moment of frailty, he is better able to preach the good news. I think that Peter is a great example to us all, that our humanity isn’t a stumbling block for God. God’s forgiveness and grace is so big that it could build Peter back up from being a frightened little man standing around a fire, to a confident disciple preaching in front of thousands. Imagine what God can do with us, too!?

    I love that Peter is able to show us how deep, wide, and wonderful God’s grace is.

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    1. Amen Joanna! I think you’ve cut to the heart of it. And I would even be willing to make the case that for Judas all is not lost until he himself gives up on grace. (And, in truth, in eternal terms, I don’t think all is lost even then… but our tradition has not been kind to Judas.)

        + + +

      Rev. Pat Raube

      Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

      1 John 4:7

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      1. I agree with you about Judas. Just because he gave up, doesn’t mean God gave up on him. I once heard about an interesting Lenten series that actually had Judas explain that he was trying to help Jesus’ cause, to force Jesus into the role Judas expected him to take… that Judas never actually expected Jesus to die. Interesting stuff.

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        1. That’s a tough direction to take in this gospel. John’s Judas is just *all* bad, a thief! I love, however, that approach, which is kind of what happens in Jesus Christ Superstar, yes?

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          1. You’re right, Martha–Judas is sort of irredeemable in John. And going against the text in stuff like this is always tricky! On the other hand, midrash is always possible, no? I don’t generally take a position contrary to the ‘plain sense’ of the text, but I always feel so awfully bad for Judas, I have decided that it’s a prompting of the Spirit not so much to defend or rehabilitate him, but to ‘save; him somehow, to see to it that this arch sinner does not miss out on the grace of the risen Lord. Ah well….

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              1. I learned that Judas and Peter were basically the same guy in the gospel according to Stephen Schwartz, and that Judas was redeemed in the end because of his good intentions from the gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Weber. Amen and amen.

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    2. Beautiful! To take it even further, I don’t think Peter even comes back…it’s Jesus that comes back, in more ways than one (ha ha!). Jesus basically MAKES him profess his love in the end, and then helps him to see that he can still dedicate his life to serving Jesus’ people.

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  6. I’m including the first 11 verses in chapter 18. Walking through the text and thinking about Peter, I realized that in this story, no matter how hard he tries, Peter just cannot do anything right. He’s still smarting from Jesus’ prediction of his denial when the guards show up to arrest Jesus. He grabs a sword to protect Jesus from arrest – deny you? Ha! I’ll go to my death defending you. Which Jesus corrects him for. Then he gets to the gate and the other disciples get him in, until the gatekeeper says, “Wait a minute…” Peter wants to be with Jesus every step of the way. If he says he’s a disciple, maybe she won’t let him in. It’s a little thing – No, not me – better that than to abandon Jesus. Beside, saying he’s not a disciple isn’t the same as saying he doesn’t know Jesus. Once in the courtyard, listening to the trial and the talk around him, he gets really afraid. He just has to be there with Jesus, and he doesn’t want the other to kick him out. Next think he knows , the rooster is crowing and he’s abandoned Jesus in the worst way- by denying he even knows him.

    But Jesus never abandons Peter. Jesus is faithful, unto death, and after resurrection, goes out of the way to restore Peter to relationship.

    Or am I reading too much into the text?

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    1. Ramona, I don’t think you’re reading too much into the text; I struggled with whether to include the first part of chapter 18 as well. Peter is us, that;s my basic position– responding enthusiastically, even in Jesus’ defense, then being scared witless when the real stuff starts raining down.

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  7. I actually wrote an Easter Day sermon once upon a time–about Judas! I’ll attach it here in case anyone’s interested.

    http://sicutlocutusest.com/2012/09/13/posteaster-sermon-my-love-for-you-pours-from-the-empty-tomb/

    I am persuaded that the key to all these stories about the disciples’ obtuseness and betrayals is the way the risen Jesus never mentions any of it once he returns to them, never holds any of it against them. This covering, recreating mercy is why I think the evangelists can be so frank about the disciples’ shortcomings before his death, and make them accessible to us in this way–Jesus ‘knew what was in them’, ‘he knew how they were made.’ And this fact also persuades me that when we want the church to be good and successful and good, we have it all wrong. I wrote about that here…

    http://sicutlocutusest.com/2013/04/09/a-post-easter-reflection-judas-peter-and-the-apostate-church/

    Anyway, loving this conversation and wishing I were in the pulpit this week. Thank you for so many great insights!

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  8. I’m working on trying to do something participatory this week. It’s been a while since I’ve done something more interactive on Sunday morning, and I like doing that at least quarterly. I’m going to weave something more like a guided meditation into the reading of the scripture instead of a straight up sermon. Maybe read a little, guide/preach a little, invite written response – – then repeat that one or times through each of the denials. Or maybe start with the garden scene, then the first denial, then the two denials at the end as one section. During the written response I’ll work on inviting people to recoganize and names times when then have countered Jesus’s way, denied his call or presence in their lives, worked in ways that divided his body and will instead of united it. Not sure exactly how to phrase that, but I’m taking some cues from your earlier posts. They will be three slightly different prompts that relate most directly to Peter’s actions each time. After all of that, I, too, will turn to Jesus’s faithfulness through to all, pointing back to last week’s sermon when I really focused a lot on all the broken people in the room whose feet Jesus washed. Then this week instead of last week I will invite people who desire to participate in a ritual of hand washing at the baptismal font. This will be the “good news” and forgiveness for all that was written, referencing what I said last week about all the people in the room with Jesus who didn’t deserve his utter devotion, but who got it anyway.

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