John, Chapter 21
My name is Simon but you probably know me better as Peter: Petros, the Rock. Oh yes, I can speak Greek too. Petros. Ha!
I have a story to tell you. You may not believe me when I tell you my story, but I will tell it anyway.
You see, I’m the man who betrayed Jesus. That’s me. The one and only. And if you really knew me you would know just how typical of me that is: big man, big ideas, big time blunderer. But you must admit that if you are really going to make your mark on history, then betraying the Son of God is an impressive way to do it.
You all thought it was Judas, didn’t you? No. Judas was always something of a misfit, a bit of an idealist in many ways, and putty in the hands of the Sanhedrin. They played him like a tambourine, used him to get at Jesus and then made sure he took the blame. Very clever. I almost felt sorry for Judas in the end.
No. I was the real villain of the piece, I’m sorry to admit. I was the villain because I was his best friend, told him I would lay down my life for him – and I meant it too – until push came to shove. Then, when he needed me most, I hid my face.
It was never supposed to be like that. We were supposed to be on the road to glory. In the end I believe we were, and still are. But now I know just how bumpy that road can be – at least I think I do.
I’m a fisherman by profession. My brother Andrew and I ran our own fishing business out of the port of Bethsaida on the shore of Galilee. Its not a bad business to be in. You never go hungry, the lake is teeming with fresh fish and there is no shortage of customers on the quayside. We were doing OK.
When Jesus chose us to be his closest disciples there wasn’t much time for fishing any more, but that didn’t seem to matter. We survived and if I were to tell you some of the amazing things I have experienced you would believe me even less than you do now.
But its true. I have walked for three years with the Son of the living God – and of course I have betrayed him.
Do you ever get the feeling that you are always the last person to catch on? You know what I mean: you have to have the joke explained; you’re the first person at the quay side just after the boat has sailed. Well, that’s me really: bold, courageous, jumping in with both feet only to find I’ve leaped into a pit.
I was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God, and the first to be called Satan by him. I was the only one who dared to walk on water; nearly drowned in that episode. I listened intently to Jesus’ parables, and then had to have them explained to me. I saw the Glory of God revealed on the mount of transfiguration, and all I could do was mutter something about building a shrine.
I can tell you I nearly walked out at one point. In fact many others did. His teaching was so hard at times. Oh yes, and I was the one who first refused to allow Jesus to wash my feet, and then went on to demand that he washed my hair. Talk about not getting the message!
But he was so patient with me, with all of us, and gradually the truth about his kingdom began to dawn on us. It was going to be a very different kind of kingdom and Jesus was to be a very different kind of king.
And then that night, that night before everything we had hoped and dreamed about came crashing to earth around our ears; or so we thought.
We were at table. It was Passover and we had settled down in anticipation of an evening meal which would last way into the night. That was the custom anyway.
But the night had hardly begun when Jesus began speaking of betrayal. There was a lot of talk, and Judas stormed out in a temper. That was when I told him I would die for him. He just looked at me with those eyes and, quite calmly, said that I would betray him three times before dawn. That hurt. After all we had been through how could he have had so little faith in me? But he was right.
Everything happened so fast. We had left the upper room and had made our way over to the Mount of Olives. Most of us were having a doze; one or two had drunk a little too much wine. All of a sudden we were surrounded by temple guards, armed to the teeth, and a hostile mob with clubs, sticks and stones. They overpowered Jesus and dragged him off. I heard some one shout that he was being taken to the high priest’s house. That could only mean one thing.
We were scattered to the four winds, running for our very lives. I was able to sneak away through the olive groves and get back into the city. I had no idea what had happened to the others.
I managed to get amongst a group of people who were gathering in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. They had lit a fire – a warm spring night had suddenly become very cold.
One by one, members of the Sanhedrin began to appear and enter the house. There were raised voices, shouting even. I heard someone shout “Blasphemy!” And my heart sank. They had got him.
Just then a servant girl came past and looked at me. “Hey, I know you” she said, “You’re part of that group that goes around with Jesus of Nazareth”. I denied it. I couldn’t think what to do. Big, bold Simon Peter was terrified for his life.
But she kept on, “Yes you are. I’ve seen you with him. Hey, call the guards. He’s one of those people!” I denied it again. She was beginning to draw attention to me. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. That might have been an end of it but then someone else started up, “Yes you are. I can tell by your accent, you’re a northerner, a Galilean!”
I had just finished shouting “I tell you I have never met this Jesus of Nazareth in my life!” when they brought him down the steps from the house – and, along with everyone else, I froze. He had already taken a severe beating. His clothes were torn and he was cut and bruised. But he looked straight at me with those eyes – just for a second, before they dragged him away. That was when I knew I had betrayed my master and my closest friend.
The cock crowed, the sun came up but I was in the darkest place on earth. I fled for my life, again. I don’t know how long I wept for, but it was a long time.
They took him to the Roman governor. Pilate is a cruel man, but he’s not that bright; not exactly the sharpest chisel in the toolbox. The high priest is more than a match for him. The Sanhedrin persuaded Pilate to execute Jesus for treason. See what I mean? They arrest him on a charge of blasphemy against God but persuade Pilate that, really, he’s an enemy of Caesar! Well, that did the trick.
I couldn’t watch. Some of the women went and sat at the foot of the cross for the whole sordid episode. I think John was there too. I just went and hid. It didn’t take very long. From Passover celebration to the burial of our Lord took less than 24 hours. And I knew it was my fault. I could have spoken up for him.
But I didn’t, and that was that. I had my chance, and I blew it, completely.
At least that was what I thought.
Two mornings later those of us who were left were gathered together in one house, hiding for fear of the temple guards, when some of the women came rushing in to say that Jesus’ body had disappeared. I just couldn’t believe it. They kept on about seeing him alive, but they weren’t making much sense. So I rushed over to the place where he had been laid and, sure enough, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Not a sign of the body; just a few linen cloths lying around.
But the women insisted that they had seen him alive and, incredible though it may seem, they were right. Jesus was alive, and we all saw him on more than one occasion. I still struggle to take it all in. I can only tell you what I know to be true.
Others can give you the details but I can say for certain that Jesus died on that cross on the eve of the Sabbath, but is alive and has shown himself to us many times.
The last time was this morning, here on the lake shore. He even ate breakfast with us. And it was this morning that I learned that I’m forgiven. I must admit that up until then I didn’t know if Jesus, this risen Lord, would ever really accept me. But this morning he asked me, three times no less, how much I loved him.
I told him.
“Tend my sheep. Be a shepherd for me” he said as he looked at me with those eyes again. He asked me to lead his people. I, who had betrayed the Son of God to save my own skin, was to be the shepherd of his flock.
I don’t know what the future will hold, and I am pretty sure I’m not up to the task, but the Son of God has given me a job to do. I will do it as best I can, but I hope he’ll give me a little help along the way.
Its funny when you think about it: the fisherman becoming a shepherd. Well, being a shepherd is just as honourable a trade. I now know that I have a lot to learn. But this I also know: if Jesus can forgive my betrayal then all things are possible.