The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” (John 18:17, NRSV)
Back in college, friends of mine played a game called “Loaded Questions.” The basic premise of the game is questions are asked and one tries to match who wrote what as their answer. Of course, when you’re in college and think your funny, outlandish answers were a dime a dozen.
Peter’s answer to the loaded question posited by the unnamed female courtyard guard isn’t too outlandish though. In fact, Peter is written so we would expect this to happen. It’s in his character. If Peter was in my circle of friends in college, I probably would have guessed he would be the one to say “I am not,” and moved that much closer to winning.
We probably shouldn’t be too hard on Peter, because he’s often the stand-in for the disciples, including us. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus says, “I am…” We love those statements: I am the Vine; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Peter makes it plain there is a vast gap between us and Jesus. While Jesus says, “I am,” Peter says the opposite, “I am not.”
We timidly listen to Peter, hoping we don’t see ourselves in his words, but the thought creeps into the back of our mind, “Am I a disciple? Would I choose to display the same boldness as Christ or slouch into the background while lying simply to avoid confrontation?”
As Pastor Dave said, it’s all too easy to take on Peter’s self-preservation and narrowmindedness when confronted with opportunities to display faith in everyday circumstances. It’s even easier when you’re put on the spot with a loaded question. I know I’ve taken the comfortable path, protecting myself. It’s effortless to find yourself with Peter in the courtyard, all you need to do is look inward at your navel.
Of course, Peter’s story doesn’t end here. Later, after the crucifixion, he finds himself around another fire. After he takes up the sword, after he says “I am not” three times, after he leaves Jesus’ burial to someone else, he finds redemption has found him. All he has to do is say yes.