This story is like David and Goliath in reverse, where the strong godly man is undone by a simple slave girl. He’s like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, roaring around about how he’ll kill ‘em all and he’ll never desert, but then running for cover when a little girl threatens him.
The whole story is a study in contrasts: strength and weakness, light and dark (the fire and the night), good and evil afoot, righteousness and sin, daring and fear, truth and lies, and in the end, failure instead of faith.
When Jesus is first arrested, Peter follows him at a distance. We can see the conflict in Peter as if he were wearing it as Joseph’s brightly colored coat. He’s brave enough and curious enough to follow, but scared enough and confused enough to keep his distance. He is drawn, but daunted.
He has the guts to enter the courtyard, and he sits down at the fire, trying so hard to nonchalantly blend in. But there will be no blending in today. The author wants us to know that at the cross the lines are drawn and clear, and there’s no straddling fences here.
It’s interesting to note that Peter’s life with Jesus up to this point is an exercise in denial. Almost every time Jesus spoke of his coming death, Peter insisted it would never happen, not on his watch. Peter crowed about how strong he would be and how he would never deny or desert. He was on fire for Jesus, and no dark of night would intimidate him. Now here, at the fire, in the dark of night, at the crow of the cock, he fails not once but three times, to prove it was no fluke. His fears become fact and his faith falls flat.
Meanwhile Jesus is on trial in another “David and Goliath” parable. The religious and political hierarchy of Palestine refuse to cower in front of the peasant teacher from Galilee. “How dare you come against us!” What they don’t seem to realize is that the one standing before them is not just a pebble in a slingshot, but the Rock of Ages who will bring them down with a mighty blow.
As one reads the scene, one must truly wonder who is on trial here, and who is in charge. For all the status of the religious leaders, they seem to be working awfully hard to be the authority in the situation. Jesus acts as if authority is not something that has to be grasped, but it rests firmly in his hands even as he is being tried and denied.