The night when Peter perfectly denied his Master
Holy Thursday. Jesus has been arrested. The apostles have eaten the bread Jesus broke in the Last Supper and have drunk of the wine that became his blood — they are in communion with Jesus.
Nonetheless, they are still men. Their human frailty will make Peter stumble, even though he was the only one who considered himself unable to betray his Master. Let’s follow him closely as he walks inside the house of the high priest, where they took Jesus. (Luke 22:54)
It is late in the night. It is cold outside. Peter notices a fire pit in the middle of the courtyard and sits among those who try to keep themselves warm. (55) We find a spot and sit nearby. The fire warms us up and we feel our cheeks burning. Yet a deep chill invades our soul. Our anxiety about Jesus freezes our bones.
One maid looks intently at Peter and warns the others, “This man too was with him.” Peter defends himself denying Jesus, pretending he doesn’t know what she’s talking about: “Woman, I do not know him.” (56-57)
Another one confronts him: “You too are one of them.” Peter replies, trying to cordially avoid him, “My friend, I am not.” (58)
Time passes slowly, and we know nothing about Jesus. After an hour, he is taken outside, handtied. There are two guards at his sides. We don’t dare to get close to him.
Someone stares at Peter and exclaims, “Assuredly, this man was too with him, for he also is a Galilean.” Peter tells him, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” At that moment, a rooster crows. (59-60)
The Lord turns and looks at Peter. When he feels his eyes upon him, the apostle remembers that in the Last Supper he tried to play the valiant one, but Jesus was sure that before the rooster crowed, he would deny his Master three times. (61) Jesus looks at him as if saying, “Didn’t I warn you this would happen?”
Peter feels a lump in his throat. He feels he is about to die of sadness and shame. He stands up and rushes out, weeping bitterly. (62)
Peter realizes that he has not denied Jesus once or twice, but thrice! The number three is a symbol of perfection. Peter has perfectly denied his Master. His betrayal is as despicable as Judas’. Yet Peter is capable of repenting. Judas only felt remorse, and to the extreme, which led him to hang himself from a tree.
Peter weeps like King David that night when he left his couch soaked with weeping. (Psalm 6:7)
According to Matthew and Mark, Peter’s denials grow in tone and color.
One maid told him, “You too were with Jesus, the Galilean.” Peter denied so: “I do not know what you are talking about!” (Matthew 26:69-70)
Another maid said, “This man was with Jesus the Nazorean,” and he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man!” (71-72)
A bystander told Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man.” (73-74)
According to Mark and Matthew, Peter raises his tone: The first time, he only denies knowing Jesus. The second time, he does so with an oath. The third one, he even curses and swears. “What the hell? I don’t know him!” he might have said.
But according to Luke, Peter’s tone fades down. First, “Woman, I do not know him.” Later, “My friend, I am not.” And lastly, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Peter lowers the intensity of his denial because he is under the effect of the Last Supper. Having sat at the Lord’s table makes the grace to act upon him. Therefore, his denials become weaker, until his heart is ready to look at Jesus in the eye, to repent sincerely, and to rush outside to weep bitterly.
Lord Jesus, as hard as we try not to, we deny you, even though we don’t want to. We are ashamed to acknowledge that we are Christians. We fear that someone will find out that we believe in you. Not once, or twice, but three times we deny you. Our denial is always perfect. But even more perfect is your mercy. Every time we deny you, look at us with your sweet eyes that forgive it all, and we will rush outside to weep and repent of all our faults.
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - Marzo 2018