THE FAILURE OF FRIENDS
Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away from me, for it stands written, `I will smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised to life again, I will go before you into Galilee.” Peter said to him, “All the others may fail away from you, but I will not.” Jesus said to him, “This is the truth I tell you–today, this night, before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” Peter began to insist vehemently, “If I must die with you I will not deny you.” So, too, they all said.
It is a tremendous thing about Jesus that there was nothing for which he was not prepared. The opposition, the misunderstanding, the enmity of the orthodox religious people, the betrayal by one of his own inner circle, the pain and the agony of the Cross–he was prepared for them all. But perhaps what hurt him most was the failure of his friends. It is when a man is up against it that he needs his friends most, and that was exactly when Jesus’ friends left him all alone and let him down. There was nothing in the whole gamut of physical pain and mental torture that Jesus did not pass through.
Sir Hugh Walpole wrote a great novel called Fortitude. It is the story of one called Peter, whose creed was, “It isn’t life that matters, but the courage you bring to it.” Life did everything that it possibly could to him. At the end, on his own mountain top, he heard a voice, “Blessed be pain and torment and every torture of the body. Blessed be all loss and the failure of friends and the sacrifice of love. Blessed be all failure and the ruin of every earthly hope. Blessed be all sorrow and torment, hardships, and endurances that demand courage. Blessed be these things–for of these things cometh the making of a man.” Peter fell to praying, “Make of me a man…to be afraid of nothing, to be ready for everything. Love, friendship, success…to take it if it comes, to care nothing if these things are not for me. Make me brave. Make me brave.”
Jesus had supremely, more than anyone who ever lived, this quality of fortitude, this ability to remain erect no matter with what blows life assaulted him, this serenity when there was nothing but heartbreak behind and torture in front. Inevitably every now and then we find ourselves catching our breath at his sheer heroism.
When Jesus foretold this tragic failure of loyalty, Peter could not believe that it would happen. In the days of the Stewart troubles they captured the Cock of the North, the Marquis of Huntly. They pointed at the block and the axe and told him that unless he abandoned his loyalty he would be executed then and there. His answer was, “You can take my head from my shoulders but you will never take my heart from my king.” That is what Peter said that night.
There is a lesson in the word that Jesus used for “fall away.” The Greek verb is skandalizein (GSN4624), from skandalon (GSN4625) or skandalethron which meant the bait in a trap, the stick on to which the animal was lured and which snapped the trap when the animal stepped on it. So the word skandalizein (GSN4624) came to mean to entrap, or to trip up by some trick or guile. Peter was too sure. He had forgotten the traps that life can lay for the best of men. He had forgotten that the best of men can step on a slippery place and fall. He had forgotten his own human weakness and the strength of the devil’s temptations. But there is one thing to be remembered about Peter–his heart was in the right place. Better a Peter with a flaming heart of love, even if that love did for a moment fail most shamefully, than a Judas with a cold heart of hate. Let that man condemn Peter who never broke a promise, who never was disloyal in thought or action to a pledge. Peter loved Jesus, and even if his love failed, it rose again.
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