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Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Christ_Mocked_-_WGA06798

(Duccio di Buoninsegna, Christ Accused by the Pharisees [scene 12], 1308-11)

[54] Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. [55] And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. [56] Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” [57] But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” [58] And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” [59] And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” [60] But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. [61] And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” [62] And he went out and wept bitterly.

[63] Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. [64] They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” [65] And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. (Luke 22:54–65, ESV)

In my undergraduate Hermeneutics course of the Spring 2018 semester, students diligently worked on the “art” of interpretation as much as the “science.” The art part involves discernment by the reader as much as it involves appreciation of the literary artistry of a writer. Artistically, Luke places the mocking and beating of Jesus immediately after the episode of Peter’s denial. One can discern that Luke intends for the reader to understand that Peter’s refusal to identify himself with Jesus as a follower allows the guards to beat and mock Jesus without hindrance.

What might have happened if Peter, instead, had followed Jesus closely, had anticipated a question about his identity with respect to Jesus, and had said, “I am a follower of Jesus, because he is the Christ. Now let me in the house with him, for I am ready to die for him!” Such a bold, unashamed response might have been so shocking to others that its story would have reverberated around the house. One of the guards might have asked, “Is there really someone who thinks this Jewish troublemaker is worth dying for? Does someone really believe he is the so-called ‘Messiah?’” Consider the responses to the unashamed Peter in Acts 4:17-31 and 5:17-42—that the Jewish leadership had to hear the Gospel and witness its power displayed through the Apostles because of their bold, unashamed testimony.

In addition to emphasizing the artistry of hermeneutics, the students spent much time thinking deeply about the right application of texts. I encouraged them to stay away from overemphasizing cognitive responses to passages – e.g., “remember,” “understand,” “know,” “stand in the truth of,” and the like – because, as believers, we are more than just our heads. If application is only for our heads (thinking) and not for our hearts (goals, motives, intentions, emotions, and affections), mouths (speech), hands and feet (actions and works), eyes and ears (as windows and receptors for our minds and souls), and our whole body (control of appetites, desires, and passions), then Christian practice will remain only a mental exercise, and not an exercise of our full embodiment for the glory of God in Christ. As I said to one student, “The world is not changed by thinking alone, even if ideas do have consequences. It is when ideas make practices that things are changed.”

In the Lukan passage before us, we concluded that one application of this passage might be for hearers of this passage to develop an anticipatory phrase (like my hypothetical phrase for Peter above)—one that is their own and that they can be prepared to say every time they are tempted to deny being a follower of Christ. Can you imagine what this will do for the Christian entering a spiritually-antagonistic university setting, or what it would do for the professional who is tempted to tone down his/her faith in the workplace for the sake of being accepted into or team or group of office friends, or for the sake of a promotion?

In contrast to the above application, I do not see an application of this passage related to forgiving those who have abandoned me (as Christ later forgave Peter). The subject of this passage is not, “The believer’s response to abandonment,” or “the imitation of Christ in the face of failure.” We are off the reservation if we see Christ looking at Peter and Peter subsequently weeping because of his shameful responses in the courtyard, and then tell our people, “Now go forgive those who abandoned you.” There is a disconnect between the subject of the passage and what we are drawing as an application of the passage. Yet application must derive from the subject, for we are applying the meaning of the passage—putting into practice what the passage talks about. At best, and without spite, Christ’s look is a reminder of his prophetic words about Peter’s failure; at worst the look is one of disappointment. Either way, the look invokes grief in Peter rather than a sense of relief from guilt. The idea of forgiveness does not enter this passage.

In order to make such an application (or rather, misapplication) of this passage, one must introduce into the story in Luke 22 Christ’s forgiveness of Peter in John 21 and the succeeding shameless preaching of Peter in the Acts narrative. However, our goal as preachers and teachers of the Scriptures is to tell our hearers what the passage in focus wants us to do in order to please the Lord, and our goal for ourselves as readers is the same (cf. Deut. 12:28; Pss. 119:105, 109-111; Acts 20:32; 2 Tim. 3:15-4:4; Heb. 5:14; Ja. 1:19-25). It is common practice for Christian preaching and teaching to punt the ball from one passage into another passage for application, especially when attempting to apply narrative literature. But we need to pretend we are going for it on 4 and 1 in every passage with right application from the verses in focus rather than immediately appealing elsewhere in Scripture for application.

Thus, sticking to the subject of Luke 22:54-65, I would suggest that you tell me to examine past episodes in which I have sought ease or comfort rather than accepting humiliation for naming the name of Christ. Tell me to look at those comfort points in order to see what sort of comforts are most attractive to me when people around me are hostile to Christ: Is it that I want acceptance among family members, inclusion in a group of popular students, no chance of having to be alone on my team as the “Jesus lover” or the object of scorn in my office, or no possibility of being the one who does not get the large-paying project on a contract because of my Christian ethical stance, etc…? Then tell me to confess my last failure to God, a spiritual mentor, a close Christian friend, and my small group, and to ask the latter three for prayer, wisdom, and loving inquiry into my faithfulness to stand for Christ going forward. Challenge me to pray for grace to be bold and courageous at the next temptation to deny Christ, and to visualize Jesus being beaten if I start moving toward the comfortable option(s) rather than the humiliating choice(s). Now you are telling me what to do in light of this passage. Or ask me how I felt the last time I acted as one ashamed of Jesus. Ask me if I want to wear those feelings again and again even as I watch people in need of Christ stand in jeopardy of his wrath (cf. John 3:36; Eph. 2:3). Ask me what feeling I would rather have (i.e., a sense of Jesus’ approval with my choice to follow him closely even if I will be beaten). Tell me that a way to ensure I have Jesus’ approval is to reply to a scoffer, “I gladly identify a myself as a Christian because I do believe Christ is the only Savior of the World.” Now remind me that all faithfulness is wholly of the grace of God.

Here is an outline of my very brief analysis of the structure and meaning of Luke 22:54-65:

Plot Goal, Conflict, and Resolution

Plot Goal                    

For Peter to move closer to Jesus in his arrest so as to be identified with him,

Plot Conflict                

in conflict with Peter’s three-times denial of Christ –

Plot Resolution

is resolved as Peter weeps at the remembrance of the saying of Christ, and the guards are allowed to beat and blaspheme Jesus.

Full Plot Statement

The Plot of Luke 22:54-65 is for Peter to move closer to Jesus in his arrest so as to be identified with him in conflict with Peter’s three-time denial of being a follower of Christ is resolved as Peter weeps at the remembrance of the saying of Christ, and the guards are allowed to beat and blaspheme Jesus.

Meaning of 22:54 (Pre-Denial)

Subject:            Peter’s denial of being a disciple of Christ

Complement:   begins by following Jesus at a distance (rather than going with him into the house [i.e. the place of suffering]) and sitting with others in the courtyard at the fire. (Note: There might be a Psalm 1 echo here.)

Meaning of 22:55-57 (Denial 1)

Subject:            Peter’s denial of being a disciple of Christ

Complement:   continues as a servant girl rightly and closely identifies him with Jesus and he chooses denounce Jesus (in order to avoid either a) leaving the warmth of the fire, b) causing others at the fire to attack him or reveal him to the authorities in the house, or c) having to go into the house). (Note: The servant girl gave Peter an open door to speak of Christ when she identified him, but he used the opportunity to deny Christ rather than proclaim him. The next two persons who identify Peter give him those same opportunities. This thought also could contribute to further applications of this passage.)

Meaning of 22:58-60a (Denial 2)

Subject:            Peter’s denial of being a disciple of Christ

Complement:   continues as a man near the fire identifies him with Jesus and Peter chooses to denounce Jesus.

Meaning of 22:60b-62 (Denial 3)

Subject:           Peter’s forceful denial of being a disciple of Christ

Complement:   continues as another identifies him with Jesus with certainty based on his Galilean background and Peter chooses to denounce Jesus, and results in personal sorrow when Peter is confronted with his sinfulness by the Lord.

Meaning of 22:63-65

Subject:            The guards’ mocking and beating of Jesus

Complement:   follows Peter’s denial of being a disciple of Christ and weeping departure.

Meaning of Luke 22:54-65

Subject:            Peter’s increasing denial of being a disciple of Christ in the courtyard,

Complement:   despite being identified as a disciple with certainty, suffers defeat for Peter at the words of Christ, and suffers beating for Jesus at the hands of the guards.

 

The Application of the Meaning of Luke 22:54-65 (with the steps from “Meaning” to “Application” being skipped here):

A disciple’s rejection of being associated with Jesus for need of personal comfort harms both the disciple and the Gospel.

Historical Note

This is the Thursday immediately before Good Friday (22:66; 23:26).

 

 

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