A Look at Peter’s Denial

Happy Holy Tuesday!

Today’s gospel has a lot of in it… take a look!

NABRE

John 13

21When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant. 23One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side. 24So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant. 25He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. 27After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28[Now] none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him. 29Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor. 30So he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.31 When he had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32[If God is glorified in him,] God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. 33My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you. 36Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered [him], “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” 37Peter said to him, “Master, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”

…like I said, a lot to unpack! In this gospel, Jesus foretells the dismal actions of two of the Twelve: Judas, who premeditates his betrayal because of his greed, while Peter denies Jesus out of fear.

But, what I would like to focus on for today is Peter’s bravado and the subsequent tragedy that follows that.

Because, let’s face it… Peter’s acting tough right now, but that’s all it is: an act.

Sure, he has a weapon that he’s hiding that, in a couple of hours he’ll use to slice off a servant’s ear when Jesus is betrayed by Judas. But, that doesn’t make him tough: that just makes him impulsive and reckless. That was not the time to fight, no matter how Peter may have longed to fight and defend the Lord in battle. It was time to stand up for Truth Himself.

And Peter doesn’t do this. On the contrary! Peter is happy to deny Jesus over and over again.

The Gospel of Matthew describes Peter’s denial as such:

NABRE

Matthew 26

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about!” 71As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazorean.” 72Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man!” 73 A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.” 74At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

This artwork depicts the denial of Peter:

The Denial of St. Peter, by Nikolaas Verkolje, 17th century. National Museum in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Denial of St. Peter, by Nikolaas Verkolje, 17th century. National Museum in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland.

In the background, you can see Christ being questioned. And outside the door? There’s Peter playing it cool!

The worst part about this entire scene is not only is Peter denying Christ, but he is also deliberately Jesus’ commandments while doing so. Jesus told them not to swear or take oaths. So, what does Peter do? Swear and take oaths! Jesus told them that those who deny Him will be denied by Christ in the end. So, what does Peter do? He denies Christ! Jesus told them that, in order to be saved, they must take up their crosses and follow Him. So, what does Peter do? Everything he can to survive the moment.

Nor are Peter’s actions trivial. Earlier in the gospel, when Jesus was trying to tell his disciples that He must suffer and die, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying such things. To which Jesus replies to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” And then Christ says the following:

NABRE

Matthew 16

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.

So, Peter knew this was coming, despite hoping against it. And he also knows full well that what he has done in this moment has separated him more fully from Jesus than death ever could. While he may not have premeditated his betrayal to Christ like Judas did, he has betrayed Christ through his denial.

And so he weeps bitterly.

Wouldn’t you?

 

Dear Jesus,

How many times through our actions have we denied You in our hearts, actions, and thoughts? Help bring us back into Your fold and have mercy on us, who are sinners.

Amen.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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