Matthew 26: 69-74
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
On Monday we looked at the subtle ways we deny Jesus, whether at work or at the grocery store. Today, from a different gospel account of Peter’s denial, we have a much more explicit (see what I did there?) example. In this version of the story, Peter doesn’t merely sidestep association with Jesus. Instead, he starts with a denial, escalates to an oath, and finishes with a string of curses to bring home the point, “I don’t know the man!”
This reflection isn’t about swearing, per se, but instead about the myriad of ways we compromise our behavior to fit in with those around us. We read in the verses prior that Jesus was being violently interrogated nearby. He was being spit on and struck. The gathering around the fire in the courtyard was largely composed of servants. Emotions were undoubtedly high. The crowd Peter was in was probably a little rough around the edges. And Peter sinks to their level in an attempt to fit in.
His desire to fit in was undoubtedly driven by fear. But we can make the same mistake out of insecurity, pride, or anxiety – almost any negative emotion we’re trying to assuage. If everyone on the construction job site swears, it’s easier to start swearing than explain why you don’t. If you’re under 21 and everyone is drinking, it’s easier to sip a beer than turn it down. Do coworkers pad their billable hours in your office, gossip, or gripe? Do friends heavily edit their instagram selfies, pose provocatively, post rude comments, or engage in coarse joking? It often feels easier to slip into those behaviors than stand against the tide. Very few of us want to stand out too much, and small compromises can help us blend into the crowd.
But here’s the first step in the hard work of discipleship. When you are tempted to compromise, as everyone is, ask first, “What negative emotion or consequence am I trying to avoid?” The beauty of that simple question is that it almost immediately reveals a place where you haven’t yet processed your pain or brokenness with a lens of faith. We compromise to avoid rejection or ridicule. We compromise out of selfishness and pride.
For many of you (and me especially) we might not be ready to not compromise. For now, that’s okay. I’m not even asking you to make the right choice this week. I am asking you to begin to see and acknowledge where you tend to compromise and most importantly, begin to ask why. To quote Sung from this weeks’ sermon,
Acknowledging weakness is the first step towards true strength.