Saturday, March 30, 2013

What Happened After...

We'll skip over the night at Gethsemane, the denials, the weeping. If you want to read it, just let me know. After that, though, in between the denials and Easter morning, Peter drops out of the Gospels. We do not know what happened then, but we can guess.

I woke, shivering and wet, to morning light and the sound of birdsong. I was at Gethsemane. Why...[1]
This very night, you will deny me three times. I jerk upright, clutching my knees to my chest. No. No no no. Surely not-
I do not know the man! Yes. I had denied him. And now-
He deserves death![2] Tears came to my eyes, already sore from weeping, and I put my head between my knees. My master had been taken in the night, and I had done nothing. Worse than nothing. It would have been better if I had stayed away like the others. But I thought I could fix it. I thought…
I jerked to my feet and, stumbling to the nearest tree, I beat my fists on it. I screamed. My fists hurt, but I kept beating them on the tree. I screamed again, louder and longer. My hands were raw and beginning to bleed—then I screamed again, and my throat hurt, and I tasted blood. I welcomed the pain. But it was not enough. It was nothing compared to what they had done to Jesus last night. What I had done to him.
I was no longer screaming. I was crying, and instead of beating against the tree I was leaning on it for support. I sobbed into the rough bark as Christ’s words, and mine, went through my head over and over again, mixing and jumbling but never stopping. You will deny me three times- I do not know the man- three times- may God strike me down- three times- deny- deny- deny- may God-
“Simon!” John’s voice. I could hear people running down the path. I turned around, away from the tree, and began to hastily rub my arm across my face, but then I stopped. They would see me as I was. “Simon!” This time it was Andrew. They were getting closer. No need to answer. The sound drew closer.
My legs were giving. I slowly sank down the tree—I was sitting down, my back to the tree, when they finally ran through the gate. John was in the lead—he had always been a fast runner—with Andrew and James right behind him. They saw me right away, but as they all rushed towards me, John slowed and let the others pass him. Our eyes locked, and in his eyes and on his face I saw the deep grief, for Jesus and all of us, and something more—pity. For me. He knew what had happened. But I could tell by the way the others were hastening towards me that they did not have any idea what I had done. Andrew stooped down next to me and put a hand on my knee, while James remained standing and put his hand on my shoulder. On their faces I could see the same sadness and fear that I was feeling, and there was even a good amount of guilt—but it was nothing compared to what I was feeling.
Andrew was about to say something, but when he saw my face, he paused, and then he said, “You know, then?” I nodded. “You know that they have taken him to Pilate?” Pilate? I shook my head, but then I stopped. Of course they would go to Pilate. Only he could… execute someone. Andrew, carefully watching my face, nodded when he saw the realization hit. “They are asking him to authorize the… the…” I raised my hand, put it on top of his, and nodded. I knew. After a moment, he continued. “We left the others behind to watch and listen, but right now, he is expected to… give his approval.” I nodded again. But still…
“What about the people?” I asked. Or tried to ask. Even I could not understand my croaking, wet, torn voice. After several tries, John, standing behind Andrew, finally understood and said, “The people… are fickle. The priests have been out in the city all morning, stirring up the city against him. There are still a few of us who follow Jesus, but the rest… At this rate, there will be a riot if Pilate decides not to… to execute Jesus.” He stopped, unable to speak anymore, and I nodded again. Of course.
The birds still sang in the trees, their song mingling with the soothing sound of wind in the olive branches. It was so strange, how something so big could happen and the world just did not seem to care.
After a while, Andrew said, “We are going back to Jerusalem, to see what is happening. Will you come with us?” And, rising, he held his hand out to help me up. But I shook my head and remained sitting. As James moved to rejoin John, Andrew asked, “Why not? What will you do?”
The question caught me by surprise. What would I do? What could I do? I shrugged, and then, looking at my scraped and bleeding hands, I said, “Wait. Wait for God to strike me down.” Hopefully I would not wait long.
“What?” Shock and horror were plastered across his face. “What do you mean, Simon? Why? I do not understand-”
“No, you do not!” John had not told him. But he still needed to know. “You do not understand, Andrew! I betrayed him. I abandoned him. I-”
“Simon, we all did! We all ran away, just like he said we would. But now-”
“I followed him, Andrew.” The tears were coming again, but the anger at myself, at what I had done, was holding them back for now. “I followed him to the house of Caiaphas. I was there, in the courtyard, while they were questioning him. But then someone recognized me, and asked me if I was his disciple. Do you know what I said, Andrew?” He slowly shook his head, understanding beginning to dawn. “I said no! And then I said I did not even know who he was!”
Pity was on his face now. Pity I did not deserve. He spoke gently. “Simon, you were panicking. Any one of us would have done the same. It could have happened to-”
“Three times, Andrew!” The tears were beginning to come, choking me, blurring my vision. “Three times, I denied him, just as he had said. Only I did not listen. Three times! Three…” I could not continue. My head dropped between my knees again. I do not know what they decided. All I know is that when I looked up again, only Andrew was there, sitting against the tree across from me. When he saw me looking up at him, he tried to smile, and he looked like he was about to say something, but I dropped my head back down. I was so tired, and I had no more tears.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember John was shaking me awake. He was very distressed, and Andrew was crying behind him. “It is happening now,” he said. “He is carrying his cross to the place of the skull. Will you come with us?” His tone was gentle and questioning.
Would I go? I should. But I did not want to. He would see me again, look at me again, and know that I had betrayed him and denied him and…
“No,” I said, in barely more than a whisper. And John nodded and, on rising, walked quickly back out of the garden, with Andrew following behind.
I had been wrong. I did have more tears.


More tears. I still remember the sudden jolt, the spike of insight that said you miserable coward. You cannot even face the man you followed for three years. The man you swore to die for. The man you denied three times. Run, coward, run. And then I had run, drawing in deep, sobbing, gasping breaths as I ran to Golgotha.  He was already on the cross by the time I got there, but I stopped before I drew close. There, a little ways off, were the others. I did not go to them. All the shame and anger in the world could not have forced me to get closer, to see the pain and disappointment in his eyes. Then had come that horrible cry—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—and I wanted to say it too. I was abandoned, lost and alone, without purpose. After a while, John and the women had drawn closer, but I still stayed behind. And after, when it was over, John had found me, and I was too broken to resist when he drew me along, both us crying. But he was merely grieving and afraid. I was shattered. Ashamed. Angry. Terrified.


It was Saturday, and we did not know what to do. I remembered when he asked us if we, like so many others, would leave him, and I remembered what I had said. Lord, to whom shall we go?[3] Now, he had left us, been taken away, and we had to ask ourselves the same question. Where would we go?
John was staying with a friend in the city, and he had taken me with him.[4] It all seemed pointless, now. There was nothing left. We had believed Jesus was the Son of God. We thought he had a plan. We thought he was going to save us. And now he was dead. I wanted to be angry at him, angry at God, even angry at myself… but the grief overwhelmed the anger. There was no room for it amidst the sadness. Jesus was dead.
It was almost noon, and my stomach growled. I had not eaten anything since… since Passover. It had been more than a day since I had eaten. John, sitting against the opposite wall, raised his red-rimmed eyes. His voice creaked and cracked as he said, “Have you eaten anything since…” I shook my head, and he nodded. Wordlessly he rose, shakily and slowly, and made his way to the door. He opened it and immediately the smell of fresh bread wafted through the air. He turned, and I saw the basket in his hand, flat loaves peeking out of it. His friend must have left it there. He brought it over and sat down next to me, setting the basket down in front of us. But then we left it there. We did not touch it. We did not speak. We hardly even breathed. We sat there and wondered how long our eyes would continue to make tears.
After a very long time, John shook himself. He reached for the basket and dragged it towards himself, then he pulled a loaf of bread out of it. He broke it in two and tried to give one half to me, but I did not move. He opened his mouth and, after a hoarse cough, said, “We have to eat, Simon.”
I did not want to say anything, but he kept holding the bread there, so I said, “What is the point, John?” He slowly lowered the bread, and I continued. “Why should we eat? What is left for us to do? Our hope is gone. Dead.” Crucified. He was still for a moment, but then he shook his head. Slowly he raised his piece of bread to his mouth and bit into it. I watched him tear off a chunk of bread, chew, and swallow.
“It is good,” he said quietly. Then he held out the other piece to me again. “Eat, Simon. It does not matter what we will do after. For now, we will eat. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?” And he took another bite, watching me while he chewed, and almost involuntarily my hand rose and took the bread. My stomach rumbled, and the smell grew stronger as I raised it to my mouth. I took a bite. It was good. As soon as I swallowed, I realized how hungry I was and took another bite. John was doing the same, and before long he reached into the basket and pulled out another loaf, again breaking it and giving half to me.
We did not talk anymore, and tears still came, and after the bread we sat in silence. What would we do? What could we do? Our hope was dead. Shattered. Broken, like me.

[1]Peter disappears from the Gospel narrative following Matthew 26:75. He does not reappear until after the resurrection in John 20:2. The following section is, therefore, entirely speculative. However, I have attempted to keep Peter’s character intact. He has no misconceptions about the gravity of his sin. He knows it to be horrible. He is ashamed of himself. Therefore, he would not go to where he would be likely to meet the other disciples. However, neither would he simply wander the streets for anyone to see. The Garden of Gethsemane could serve both as a comfort and a self-inflicted punishment, reminding Peter of his Lord and his own betrayal of that Lord. The Garden, then, seems a likely place to retreat to.
[4]From John 20:2, we learn than that Peter and John were together following the crucifixion. That it is only Peter and John is nearly certain, because only they are mentioned throughout the entire narrative section—surely the others would at least have been mentioned once had they been present when Mary Magdalene came to them. Lenski (John 1336) says, “Where were these two? Where were the rest of the eleven? Who can tell? Only these two were here—that is all.” I do not know why Peter was with John and not Andrew, his own brother. Perhaps he was still ashamed to be near the others. Perhaps he had a special friendship with John (Lenski reminds us of John 18:15-16, and we may also remember John 13:24). However, speculation can only take us so far. John and Peter were together: where and why Scripture does not reveal. 

Where is Peter--rather, perhaps we should call him Simon, for now--to go? What is he to do? Would it be even remotely possible to return to his life as a fisherman? On that Saturday, the bottom had well and truly fallen out of the world, and the full sense of the despair of Ecclesiastes crashed in upon the disciples, with the added sting of knowing, however briefly, that there was more to existence than this crushing hopelessness.

Like this post?  Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple. 

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