Matthew 26:69-75 – The Parable of the Third Grade Valentine Favors

Posted: April 15, 2016 in 40-Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 26:69-75

Peter Denies Knowing Jesus

 

There was always that one weird kid, or stinky kid, or ugly kid, or geeky kid that everyone picked on, shunned, ignored, made fun of in elementary school. You would be considered social pariah if you were caught talking to them. You would be an outcast if you befriended them. Once you get a label of being persona non grata in school, it sticks with you. I remember in elementary school when I was living in Hartsville, SC (where my dad was pastoring two United Methodist churches while we lived there). I think it was 3rd grade and it was right before Valentine’s Day. Back in those days, we made construction paper pouches that would be tacked up on one of the walls of the teacher’s classroom. Every kid would have one. It ended up being a popularity contest. The amount of valentine cards or favors that you got in your pouch, the more popular you were. I remember clearly that my mother, being the nurturing egalitarian that she was, made me make a valentine favor for every kid in my class, including the social pariah of a girl whose last name escapes me but whose first name was Ruth. It was an old fashioned name even among early 1970’s third graders. Ruth was a queer one. She wore her overcoat all the time. She had these really thick 1950’s teacher glasses that she wore. She must have come from a poor family because she wore the same clothes frequently and often smelled funny. Worst of all for her, bless her little heart, was that she was, how shall I say this delicately, aesthetically challenged. Yes, she was no beauty queen. Add to that she was painfully shy to the point that she rarely spoke. I have not thought about her in years til this morning. On that particular day, I think it was a Friday with Valentine’s Day being on Saturday. It was my last chance to put out my cards and favors in the pouches of my classmates. I put favor after favor in each of my classmates pouches but waited until last to put a favor in Ruth’s pouch. I begrudging followed my mother’s desires to show everyone the same level of love. But she did not know the politics of Thornwell Elementary School. Ruth was a social outcast. I acted as though I contracted a disease or something after I put the card in her pouch. My friends laughed. Others made fun of me. But my act of convulsion probably saved me politically but I still remember the blank stare of Ruth when I caught her in my vision. I know this girl suffered mercilessly at the hands of kids like me and others all through elementary school and probably junior high/middle school and high school. Her only relief probably was to get the hell out of Hartsville after graduation. Though I only spent 3rd and 4th grade in Hartsville, I would now hope that she came back to a high school reunion 10 years later as this sophisticated lady who had made it big in Atlanta or something and was coming home to show the rest that she was the real victor when most were probably still living in Hartsville living lives of quiet desperation farming or working at the Sonoco plant.

 

That’s the thing that I think this morning. How we all shunned Ruth back in 3rd grade. What hell her life must have been at the hands of us stupid kids. How if you were even caught talking to her that you would be an outcast yourself or at least made fun of for the rest of the day for being ugly, stinky Ruth’s boyfriend. That thought of not wanting to be associated with someone for fear of what it would do to you to the point of denying them your friendship when it was most needed is what I think of today when I read Matthew 26:69-75 which reads:

 

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

 

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

 

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

 

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

 

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

 

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

 

Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

 

Peter was trying to save his own skin. He was afraid. He feared that he was going to be turned over to the Jewish authorities for having been part of Jesus’ gang of twelve. He had seen how Jesus was being treated and that they wanted Jesus dead. He feared that if he admitted knowing Jesus that he would face the same fate. Peter was braver than the rest of the disciples by simply being there, but when he was called out as being a disciple of Jesus, he denied Jesus. He progressively got more demonstrative in his denials. His first denial was a simple, “I don’t know what you are talking about” and the last two were direct and progressively more blantant denials. The second denial was an oath such as “May the Temple fall to the ground if I am not telling the truth.” The final denial was a swear which meant that it was like saying “As God as my witness, I do not know the man.” Then the rooster crowed and Peter remember the prophetic words of Jesus. He probably remembered how vehemently that he told Jesus that he would die first before denying Him. Here, Peter knows, that he failed miserably at his promise to Jesus. That realization sent him to the deepest despair that anyone could imagine. There is a scene in the Passion of the Christ where Jesus as he is being halled away in chains like a dog where the guards stop for a second just as Peter is making his last denial and looks over and sees Jesus staring at him. Jesus does not say a word but the effect on Peter is damning to his core. That stare reminds me of that stare that Ruth gave me back in the 3rd grade when I made out like her Valentine pouch for cards and favors was an extension of this social loser and had given me a disease. The blank stare probably not of hate, but of deep hurt as if “Mark, I thought you were one of the good guys, but you are just as mean as everyone else which hurts worse.” When it was time for me to be stand up guy and give this girl some dignity in a world that treated her like crap, I failed miserably. Peter fails miserably in the same way here. It stayed with him the rest of his life. That stare from Ruth has stayed with me (as a memory that pops up anytime I think of standing up for the downtrodden or standing up against the tide of public opinion) for the rest of my life.

 

Peter denied Jesus because it was the expedient thing to do. It kept him from being singled out as a Christ follower. How often do we do that in our lives today? We praise God in the temple, so to speak, when we are among our cocoon of churchgoing friends. But, yet, when it is time to share the gospel in a setting away from the church, we fail miserably sometimes to the point of demonstrating or saying that we are not Christ followers. We fail Jesus when we are given divine appointments to share the gospel and we don’t. We fail Jesus when we go along with the crowd in some immoral activity and say nothing for fear of being aligned with Jesus and those Bible thumpers. We fail Jesus when we deny that we go to church or read the Bible just so we won’t be singled out from the crowd or excluded from those group hang-outs at the bar after work. We fail Jesus when we go along with public opinion about things that are clearly not biblical or at least stand in silence as unbiblical actions are sanctioned in the court of public opinion. When we bow to public pressure through our silence on issues in the public square that are clearly antithetical to teachings of Jesus and to the whole of the biblical record, we fail Jesus. When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, we deny Him. When we show hatred toward those whose actions are unbiblical instead of compassionate engagement, we fail Jesus. You get the point. We must stand with Jesus when there are opportunities to share the gospel. We must stand with Jesus when the world seems to be purposefully thumbing their nose at him by their actions. We must stand with Jesus to show people loving compassion regardless of whether they are friend or foe. We stand with Jesus even when it may cost us something in the court of public opinion. We do not care about public opinion when we are a true Christ follower. We care about people knowing coming to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ that reconciles them with God so that they may spend eternity in Heaven. The eternal game is the one that matters not this temporary life. But many of us see this life as the most important thing and we deny Jesus. Jesus stares at us with deep sorrow when we do. I am sorry Jesus for the ways that I deny you. I know that it pains you to the core. That stare slays me to the core. I am sorry Jesus. Just like 3rd grade Ruth’s stare struck me to the core for the hurt and pain that was obviously there for my callousness. I am sorry Ruth these decades later!

 

Peter never forgot that night. Even though Jesus restored Him that night on the ocean shore as we shall see when we get to that point in Matthew, I am sure that his denial when it counted was something that stuck with Peter for the rest of his life. He used it I bet to fuel his ministry. Anytime, it got hard and painful and dangerous, I bet he thought back to that night and it drove him to carry on for Jesus. Maybe that is what you and I should do. Beg for Jesus’ forgiveness. Ask him to forgive us for the sorrow we have caused Him with our spoken denials and our denials by action or by inaction. Every time that serving Jesus in whatever way it may be for us, think back to how we have denied Jesus in the past, how He has forgiven us for it, and push forward do the hard work of being a Christ follower in a fallen and sinful world. Amen and Amen.

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