(Peter enters panting deeply, gasping for breath as if he has been kicked in the stomach. He keeps looking behind him, as if he were being followed. He grimaces from pain in his head and his stomach. He gasps, blinks his eyes, and rubs his head with his hands, as if he were going to pass out.)
Oh my God, what just happened? … What’s happening? Am I safe here? … Where are the others? What did I do? … What have I done? I have to sort this out. I can’t really believe all that has happened, just the way HE said it would. It couldn’t have happened, not that way ….
It all seemed fine. We were just sharing our evening meal together, like always. Most of us were talking and laughing, about things like that ridiculous parade a few days ago, when we came back to the City. It was just another night together, only we were happy and no one was worrying about anything in particular. Well, no one except maybe Jes, … Jesu … (cries out) I can’t say HIS name, not after what I’ve done. HE wasn’t laughing; HE seemed preoccupied, but that wasn’t unusual.
And, now that I’m thinking about it. It wasn’t just another supper for HIM. Maybe I should have suspected something was up when he took some of the bread and blessed it. It was as if he were performing the Passover Seder, but that’s impossible; they only do that in the Temple. And, did HE really say this? He called the bread his body and then he took a cup of wine, blessed it too, and called the wine his blood. Well, HE’s done strange things before, stuff that I couldn’t understand.
But, then, HE looked at us, looking at each one of us deeply, before moving his gaze to the next one. And, HE said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
I thought I couldn’t have hear that right. BETRAY HIM? Who of us would, even could do such a thing? Surely, not one of us, not one of the Twelve. Not one of those who sat at the table, just as we had done so often before. But, then, the way HE was looking at us, I couldn’t help thinking that He was talking about me. Ridiculous. It sure shut us up; we started looking at each other as if we didn’t know one another anymore.
Then Jesus said, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. We all gasped, shocked. All, except for Judas. He just said, very calmly “Surely not I, Rabbi?”
Of course! Of all us, it would have been Judas. He’d begun to be such a malcontent. Grumbling, supposedly under his breath, but loud enough so that most of us could hear it. HE was making our efforts just a bit too personal. This was supposed to be about helping the poor, not being another Messiah. But, that doesn’t make any sense. How could betraying our leader, change things for the better? It was so confusing. And, the room seemed to have become like an oven.
Suddenly dinner was over and we were walking to the Mount of Olives, singing as we went.
And, then, HE stopped, turned to us and said: “You will all become deserters because of me this night…” I felt a chill run through me, all the way to my bones. I shuddered.
But, I thought, there was no way I would ever do such a thing! I said, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”
Jesus looked straight at me. I think HE smiled. HE had always known me better than I knew myself, even though I could never admit that to HIM or me. HE said, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
And I cried out, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”
And so said all the rest of the Disciples. None of us thought, imagined it possible, to deny him, our friend.
But before we could think about this we were on the move again, going to Gethsemane to pray. Jesus told the others to sit and pray and then he took me and the two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, off to the side to speak to us.
HIS voice was almost a whisper. “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
I don’t know what happened then. It couldn’t have been that it was so late or the wine from dinner. I don’t really remember nodding off, but the next thing I knew, HE was shaking me awake. My heart almost broke when he said, with deep anguish, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? … Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went back to his place again. It was unbelievable. He had just asked me for the second time to stay awake and pray with him. But, I couldn’t stop the heaviness in my eyes. I was nodding and trying to keep my eyes open. I did hear him say, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
And then I must have fallen asleep again. Because he was shaking me and the others awake again. He cried out, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
We all turned; I still can’t believe what we saw. There he was, Judas, leading a group of people with clubs. They were storming up the path toward us; yelling and threatening Jesus, ignoring the rest of us, as if we weren’t there. Then Judas said to the chief priest, “The one I kiss is the man, arrest him!”
I was stunned; the others too. We were so shocked, we couldn’t say anything; we were paralyzed. But, not HIM. HE had that look again, knowing others better than they knew themselves. Jesus, just said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.”
And then it all blew apart. Some of the mob, grabbed Jesus, and one of the priests yelled that Jesus was arrested. Suddenly there was a frenzy of swords and shouting. One of us, in our fear and panic, pulled a knife and cut off the ear of a slave. It was awful! All I could hear was screaming and the clash of swords and rocks. There seemed to be blood everywhere and on everyone.
But once again Jesus took control and calmed things down. He said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.”
And then the worst possible thing happened. We ran away. … Every single one of us. Including me.
We ran, filled with terror. Maybe we were afraid that we would be arrested next. Maybe we were just scared. I don’t know there was a reason for any one of us. We ran; we just ran. And, not together. We each ran our own way and hid, as if we just on our own and hadn’t been with HIM and the others at all.
But, I found I couldn’t leave what was going on entirely. I stopped and from a vantage point, I watched as they dragged him to Caiphas’ house, the high priest. They sat him down with guards all around and questioned him. I was too far away to hear them, but I kept watch for a while. I’m not sure what I thought I could do. To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking at all.
Finally I could take it no longer. I was in a daze, out of my mind with fear and grief and shock. I had no idea where to go. I ran from street to street. And then I slowed down and walked, not wanting to draw attention to myself. Finally I sat down in the courtyard, my head in my hands, my thoughts too heavy to bear. This could not be happening!
Suddenly a servant girl appears. She points at me and says “You also were with Jesus, the Galilean.” At first, all I can do is stare at her. Then, I shake my head vehemently and I shout at her, this little girl, denying it. Another girl appears, and says the same thing. I deny it, for the second time. And, then a group of people appear, and they all agree, they have seen me with HIM. But, again, for the third time, I deny, shouting they have made a mistake. Then a rooster crows. And, my blood runs cold; I hear HIM saying, “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.”
Oh my God. What have I done?
I couldn’t sit there and wait any longer. I ran off and hid in my mother’s house. Outside the noise in the streets told me that the worst possible thing was happening. They had accused Jesus of crimes worthy of crucifixion. Crucifixion! They stripped him of his clothes, mocked him and dressed him as a king and made him carry his own cross. People threw rocks and sticks at him, laughing as he struggled. They shoved him to the ground and tied his hands and feet to the cross. I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming out when the nails pounded through his flesh and broke his bones. Then they crucified him and left him to die on the side of the hill.
Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.3He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”
How he so horribly suffered, my friend, the man I loved like a brother, while I hid, pretending not to know him. He died that afternoon, like a common thief, hung between two others. I should have died with him; I am far more guilty than HE ever was or even could be. But, HE is dead and I still live. Would HE still be alive if we, no, even just I had not run away, denied HIM, as he said I would?
How can that be? Where is the justice in that? Maybe, my living is my punishment.
Maybe I am supposed to live. Jesus, who knew me and the others, better than we knew ourselves, also said that I was the Rock. I never really knew what he meant. And, after what I’ve just done, I am no Rock, that’s for sure. But, maybe. ….
Oh my God, what am I to do?
text adapted from the Gospel of Matthew, NRSV, by Terri C. Pilarski and Paul VanderVert