While Christ was being arraigned before Annas, the high priest, Peter mingled with the crowd in the courtyard. A fire was soon kindled to ward off the cold of the night, and Peter drew closer and sat down with the rest. St. Luke remarks that a certain maidservant saw him sitting at the blaze, and after gazing upon him she said: “This man too was with Him.” But he denied Him, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” (Lk. 22:56-57) St. Mark adds that Peter “went outside into the vestibule; and the cock crowed.” (Mk. 14:68)
If there ever was a Jekyll and Hyde it was Peter. At the Last Supper, Peter was superb. He was fervent, generous, and brave. Hear him as he says to Christ: “I will lay down my life for thee.” Jesus answered him: “Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen I say to thee, the cock will not crow before thou dost deny me thrice.” (Jn. 13: 37,38) Certainly Peter was brave, if foolhardy, in drawing his sword to defend Christ against the soldiers who came to seize Him in the Garden of Gethsemani. Now, look at the other Peter in the court of the High Priest. What a pitiful change! The closest friend of the Messias takes his place in the midst of Christ’s enemies. He sits around the fire with them. A maidservant taunts him about being a friend, associate, and companion of Jesus of Nazareth, and hears Peter: “Woman, I do not know Him.”
For our instruction and warning, note the steps Peter took to this dismal state wherein he could deny Christ. First, Peter was too self-confident. When Christ forewarned him, he resented the Master’s foretelling, and declared that others might deny Christ, he would never do so. Whenever we grow boastful we are in peril. Safety lies in a consciousness of our own weakness and in implicit trust in God.
Next, Peter slept in the Garden of Olives when he should have watched and prayed. Again, Peter was rash in drawing his sword in the garden. That incident made him nervous and afraid of recognition. He had a right to fear recognition lest he be arrested for his assault on the servant of the high priest. Still another step toward the denial resulted from the fact that Peter followed Christ from afar. Following Christ at a distance is always perilous. It shows a weakening attachment and a trembling loyalty. The only way to follow Christ is by thorough, unwavering devotion and wholehearted consecration, no matter what the cost. The final step that led Peter to his denial of Christ lay in the fact that he had sat down among the servants of the high priest. He had gone among them in order to hide his relation to Christ. The only safe way for any follower of Christ is to disclose, unequivocally and nobly, complete attachment and discipleship.
Learn to avoid beginnings. The time to check yourselves is at the onset of your defections.