For Lent, we are going through the passion narrative according to the Gospel of Luke. I preached this homily on our second Wednesday of Lent, February 27th on Luke 22: 39-62
Lent began with the testing of Jesus in the wilderness. We heard the story just a few weeks ago, how the devil tempted Jesus with food to satisfy his physical hunger, with power to rule the world, and with the ability to live without human limitations. Jesus passed the test with flying colors, and the defeated devil ran off to reappear at an opportune time. Well, the moment has arrived; the time has come – the power of darkness has returned in full force and is now running the show.
This time, it is the disciples, not Jesus, who find they are facing the devil’s exam. And this is no “pop quiz” - three times Jesus prepped his followers for what was going to happen, saying “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised;” and later, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands;” and again “For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon.” Jesus gave his students ample warning that the end of their semester was close at hand. And the test that the devil would dish out would be the most frightening experience of their lives.
For some last minute cramming, Jesus takes his disciples to his favorite place to pray. Jesus tells them to pray that they will not fall into temptation. Judging by what happens later on, they should have prayed that they would not be overcome by their confusion, fear, and grief, because they end up succumbing to all three. Jesus himself prefers to pray in solitude, a short prayer that shows a resigned yet determined Jesus, who seems to rise from his “dark night of the soul” ready to face the many trials of the night.
Imagine his dismay when he comes upon the disciples, not fervently praying as he recommended, but drained by grief and stress, and yielding to their exhaustion. I can’t really blame them, though. Many of us have felt what it’s like to feel drained after an intense crisis. The adrenaline of the moment does not last forever, and when it runs out, the fallout of tiredness can be crushing.
They were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes and Jesus was in the middle of scolding them - when Judas arrives. He had found the perfect time to finally trap Jesus – alone and in the dark, away from the masses that followed and supported Jesus. Twelve peasants from the country were no match for a crowd of armed men. But instead of simply pointing which man was the one they came to arrest, Judas instead approaches Jesus to kiss him, and so solidifies his reputation as the most notorious back-stabber in all of history.
When it dawned on the disciples that Jesus was in trouble, they lashed out in their confusion and gave in to anger. After all, the beloved teacher they had been following for three years was in danger! He was being unfairly arrested under the cover of darkness! It was an unfair fight from the beginning, and they wanted to fight back!
But the disciples had not only forgotten the three times Jesus had warned them of this moment, they had forgotten entirely what the Jesus was about. Three years later, and they had still not gotten that Jesus is about healing, and not hate. He is about forgiveness, not force. He is about reconciliation, not revenge. But instead, his disciples lash out at the nearest person, someone not even there by his own will, and cause him bodily harm. Yet again Jesus had to show them the right answer – compassion, not violence.
When Jesus is seized and the other disciples likely run away, it is only Peter who remains, though following at a distance, not wanting to be seen or caught. But even our beloved Peter, the star pupil, fails his last test miserably - even after being given three chances to “get it right.” Though earlier he had professed his determination to follow Jesus even to death, he too is overwhelmed by fear, and gives into his own desire for self-preservation.
I think though, even though Peter in the end failed the test, he did to one thing right. He may have fallen asleep at prayer, he may have wanted strike at those who wished him harm, and he may have wanted to run away, but he stayed with Jesus, and when in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial, Peter sat in the light.
When the darkness seemed thickest, when the forces of evil were surrounding Jesus and licking their lips in anticipation, when it seemed that dawn might never come, Peter still sat in the light. Though it caused others to be able to identify him, he could not leave the light, nor could he not leave Jesus’ side.
Peter should get extra credit for this, but he doesn't The rooster still cruelly crows and Jesus looks at Peter, perhaps with a mixture of reprimand and pity. But in the end, we remember it is really Jesus that is on trial here. It is Jesus who is being punished for his welcoming message of healing, love, and forgiveness. It is Jesus who is fighting the ultimate battle against temptation, the powers of evil, and death. Though Peter can’t see it yet, though it will test Jesus to his utmost and will cost him his life, Jesus is going to win.