How Close Will You Get?
By Rev. Dr. Kimberly Reisman
Scripture Focus: Matthew 26:47-58
Following Jesus, truly following him, is never easy. There are risks, unexpected twists and turns, surprises and events that we never dreamed could happen. There are moments when following seems meaningful, full of excitement and joy. However, there are other times, times of difficulty, even danger, when we become discouraged and afraid, and things don’t seem to be turning out at all the way we thought they would.
Faith – real faith, authentic faith – involves a daily process of choosing. In the midst of all those unexpected twists and turns, in the midst of the meaningful and in the midst of the difficulty, a faith that is authentic requires a daily choice. How will I follow Jesus today?
The Light of the Fire
Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end.
Matthew 26:58 (NLT)
One of the wonderful things about human beings is our ability to think in metaphors. We don’t just have the ability to think that way; we have a need to think that way. We need metaphors to help us get a handle on unseen realities – spiritual truths that are almost impossible to understand any other way.
The story of Peter in the courtyard serves as a metaphor for me. It’s an image that helps me better understand the challenge of living the Jesus way. Following Jesus is about choosing, again and again, how we are going to follow and the story of Peter in the courtyard points to that challenge.
If you read Matthew 26:55-56 you’ll see that the disciples have just spent the evening sharing the Passover Seder with Jesus. Afterwards, they all go to the garden for prayer. While they are there, Judas arrives with the temple guards and betrays Jesus with a kiss. This scene is meaningful for me because it vividly illustrates the challenge of following Jesus. When things get difficult, I’m frequently tempted to abandon the whole thing and run. And that’s exactly what the disciples did on this night. They all deserted him and fled.
Except Peter. Somehow, even though he ran from the garden, Peter decided not to run too far. Instead, he followed at a distance, waiting to see what would happen. (Matthew 26:58) I can understand that too. There are many times when I’m more comfortable holding back a bit, staying at a safe distance, waiting to see how things will unfold.
Luke 22:54-56 gives us another perspective on the scene. Again, Peter follows at a distance, waiting with others around the fire in the courtyard. He’s holding back, staying safe until he knows how things are going to turn out.
Here is the crucial element of the metaphor of Peter in the courtyard. Though Peter followed at a distance, eventually he is recognized, and it is the light of the fire that allows others to identify him as a follower of Jesus. Getting close to a fire can be risky. It’s easy to get burned and that’s what happens to Peter. He gets close to the fire, people recognize him, and in the intensity of the fire he denies he ever knew Jesus.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17. During this season, I pray that your continued practice of prayer and fasting will lead you to experience real, authentic faith, the kind that requires that we stand close to the fire, not off in the shadows or at a distance.
As you reflect on our Scripture focus for February, recall the last week of Jesus’ life. We are like the people who greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. We must choose how close we will get to him. Remember, during that week the authorities and the public watched his every move. The questions that faced his followers then, face us today: Will we hang in there with him? Will we be loud about our hosannas, or will we wait and watch? Will we wave our palm branches with gusto, or will we simply hold them uneasily? Will we go with Jesus to the garden? Will we stay awake with him while he prays and wrestles with the terror of his impending future? Or, like the one who betrayed him, will we choose to sell him out for money, or power, or political agendas?
How close to the fire will we get as we stand in the courtyard?
During this month of prayer and fasting, reflect on the kind of choices are you facing as you seek to follow Jesus. What hurdles have you encountered recently? What confirmations have you received that you are on the right track? Offer up these reflections to God during your time of prayer and be confident that God will always accompany you as you take the risk of exploring an authentic faith.
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