This very night all of you will run away and leave me, for the scripture says, ‘God will kill the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised to life, I will go to Galilee ahead of you.
I tell you that before the rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.
When the Passover meal was completed, Jesus tells his disciples that they will run away and leave him. The prophecy that he cites doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me. It’s from Zechariah:
The Lord Almighty says, “Wake up, sword, and attack the shepherd who works for me! Kill him, and the sheep will be scattered. I will attack my people and throughout the land two-thirds of the people will die. And I will test the third that survives and will purify them as silver is purified by fire. I will test them as gold is tested. Then they will pray to me, and I will answer them. I will tell them that they are my people, and they will confess that I am their God.” (Zechariah 13:7-9).
My problem is that Jesus says, “God will kill the shepherd….” and I don’t think there is any other instance where Jesus blames his death on God. Jesus has said repeatedly through the parables that God is sick and tired of the people killing his prophets, and that he is very unhappy about the fact that Jesus is about to be killed. All this makes it seem unlikely that God is the one doing the killing. Yes, his disciples do indeed scatter as it says in the scripture, but after Jesus’ death the rest of the prophecy doesn’t come true. Two-thirds of the people don’t die and it doesn’t really seem like the rest were purified. Oh well. I’m not going to dwell on it. God allows the murder of Jesus to occur, but I’m not at all convinced that he caused it. Whatever.
Anyway, I think Jesus’ main point in quoting the Zechariah reference is the scattering part. Jesus knows that his disciples will scatter and he wants to be sure they all get rounded up again after the resurrection, so he tells them where to meet up. He gives them instructions like the kind of plan that families develop to meet in a certain place if the house catches on fire. Jesus tells them he will meet them in Galilee after he has been raised back to life. Galilee – back where it all started.
But Peter objects to the notion that he will scatter along with the rest of the flock. He thinks he’s better than that. He says, ““I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!” After all, isn’t Peter the one that Jesus is counting on to hold everyone together? Back on Day 146 Jesus said, “And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it.”
In the long run Peter was pretty faithful to carry on the ministry of Jesus. But for the short term, not so much. Jesus contradicts Peter. He says that Peter will indeed crap out on him: “I tell you that before the rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.”
Peter is indignant. He thinks he knows himself. He knows that he is totally devoted to Jesus and he is confident that he will remain faithful to the end. He knows that he is the one Jesus is depending on. And so Peter says, “I will never say that, even if I have to die with you!” And all the other disciples chimed in that they would be faithful.
Peter and all of the other disciples can’t imagine that they would ever abandon Jesus. And yet here’s what eventually happens after Jesus was arrested:
Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard when one of the High Priest’s servant women came to him and said, “You, too, were with Jesus of Galilee.” But he denied it in front of them all. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he answered, and went on out to the entrance of the courtyard.
Another servant woman saw him and said to the men there, “He was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it and answered, “I swear that I don’t know that man!”
After a little while the men standing there came to Peter. “Of course you are one of them,” they said. “After all, the way you speak gives you away!” Then Peter said, “I swear that I am telling the truth! May God punish me if I am not! I do not know that man!”
Just then a rooster crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had told him: “Before the rooster crows, you will say three times that you do not know me.” He went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75).
Yup. Peter denies Jesus three times before dawn when the rooster crows. Less than twelve hours after he pledges that he is willing to die with Jesus, Peter falters. He lies. He fails, big time.
The up side is that even though Jesus knows his followers will scatter and that Peter will reveal his truly cowardly nature, he doesn’t seem particularly upset about it. He just states it as a fact, and then tells his disciples where he will meet up with them. He doesn’t tell them to repent or make them feel unnecessarily guilty.
The disciples didn’t have to do everything perfectly for things to work out. They didn’t have to be noble and heroic. They didn’t have to suffer with him on the cross. They didn’t have to go through the terror of witnessing his death. For things to work out, all they had to do was go to Galilee after it was all over. Jesus knew that going to Galilee was about all they were capable of doing, and it was enough. Jesus knew them better than they knew themselves, and he loved them anyway.
What does this scripture say to you?