Today’s text is from John 18:12-27.
On a musical keyboard there are twelve different sounds you can combine to make music. Seven sets of white keys and five sets of black keys for what amounts to eighty-eight total keys on a full size piano.
So, any piece of music you hear is just a combination of these different pitches. But of course, it’s a bit trickier than that in practice. No matter the instrument – whether it’s a piano, flute, guitar, trumpet, violin – I think we each find out very quickly that although making the instruments themselves sound is fairly straightforward – to make a piano play you just press down on its keys, to make a violin sound you just draw the bow across its strings, to make a trumpet sound you just need to blow air into it – to actually make music with these instruments and not just mere sound takes a knowledge of what pitches sound good together.
The word dissonance means a “lack of harmony or agreement” according to Merriam-Webster. A lack of harmony or agreement. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen dissonance play out in your own life. You’ve seen conflict, arguments, division, infighting, disputes. Dissonance in real life is arguments, emotions rising and falling, tempers flaring, disappointment that commonality can’t be reached.
But dissonance in music – and in our text today, dissonance in literature – brings with them whole new dimensions to the word. Dissonance in music is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. Because while you can make beautiful sounds on an instrument, you can also make jarring ones.
That even though every key on a piano has a next-door neighbor, that doesn’t mean they sound good together. That even though in our text today we have two narratives side-by-side, two narratives occurring at the same time, it doesn’t mean they resonate with one other.
This morning our text fast forwards us all the way through Lent, past Palm Sunday, past Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, past the Garden of Gethsemane, and into the evening hours before Good Friday.
Jesus’ so-called trial in front of the high priest is underway. Jesus – standing before the highest ranking Jewish official in Jerusalem, surrounded by other officials and guards, being interrogated without witnesses present, under a presumption of guilty until proven innocent. Jesus stands condemned. He knows it. He’s known this moment was coming the whole time. And so he stands free of fear or anxiety. Jesus – under siege by those in power and abandoned by those who call him Teacher and Lord – Jesus remains calm, at peace, confident that no matter what path lay ahead new life will be the end result.
This narrative of a bold and confident Jesus, of a fearless and free Jesus, is sandwiched between Peter waiting just outside of the courtyard. Peter is not bold or confident, he’s not fearless or free – he’s imprisoned by the fear of death.
The dissonance between these two narratives cannot be underscored enough. In Jesus Christ, we have a Savior who does not fear death, who does not back down from the words he has spoken, who continues to love until the very end.
And then, in Peter, a follower, a believer, a person who calls Jesus friend, we have reality. I think we see an honest example of what discipleship looks like at times: Denial. But in the Gospel of John this denial is stronger than simply taking Peter’s words at face value.
At passing glance it may seem that this servant girl is simply asking if Peter is a disciple of Jesus – and in fact the way her question is phrased in the Greek she’s assuming that his answer is going to be, “no”. Three times he’s asked this question.
In the Gospel of John, to truly answer this question of being a disciple is not a matter of reciting proper theology or faith statements. To be a disciple of Jesus in the Gospel of John means being in relationship with Jesus.
Discipleship and relationship go hand-in-hand. Which makes this denial all the worse. Because Peter is denying more than theology and belief and faith, but denying the very friendship and the very abundant love he received from his friend, his Lord, his Savior.
But even in the midst of this denial we see that Jesus does not give up, not does stop loving Peter, does not stop doing exactly what Jesus was always going to do: Die on the cross for Peter, for all the disciples – die on the cross for you.
Because even on days where we doubt our faith and beliefs, even on days when we deny the very abundant and life-giving relationship we have each received through and in Jesus Christ, we find that our Lord and Savior – our friend – does not abandon us. That although we may at times turn our backs on the very relationship and calling we have received from Jesus, we find that Jesus does not give up on us.
The Holy Spirit does not stop encouraging us and empowering us and strengthening us. For through and in Jesus Christ we have each received the ultimate gifts of forgiveness and mercy and grace and love. Gifts that are yours whether you think you deserve them or not. Gifts that showcase the abundant friendship and love you receive through Jesus Christ. Gifts that set you free.