old story, new approach

coloring copyI’m really liking the Biblical Preaching class I’m taking with Aaron Wymer, and I’m really not saying that to win points. It’s just good stuff. 

Last week one of our assignments was to retell a Bible story from the perspective of one of its characters; the idea was to gain a new perspective on the text by thinking about its details in a fresh way.

While this is kind of fun, it’s also a more difficult than it sounds. It’s amazing how such a simple exercise can stretch you to explore the story. Most of you preacher types were probably introduced to this idea in your own intro to preaching courses, but if not, here you go—give it a try. And here’s my take on Peter denying Jesus in Mark 14. Please do not leave grades in the comments.

I live my life around men. I work for the Jewish high priest—a pretty good job, considering the other options, but it means spending my days and many of my nights carrying food and wine into rooms full of men. They are often debating issues of politics or Jewish law and most of them barely give me a glance, although occasionally one will pinch me as I walk by or let his hand rest on my arm just a little too long. I prefer to be ignored.

The outer courtyard isn’t usually busy; it’s often just a quick pass-through I use to get to the kitchens. But that night it was full of activity. A crowd had captured the man they call Jesus as he was praying nearby, arrested him, and brought him to stand trial before the Sanhedrin. Dozens of the men stayed behind to see what would happen, and it was going to mean a long night for all of us.

I took a break to rest as the crowd wandered in, and saw a man who looked familiar. I’d seen him trailing the rest of the group, and now he was shuffling for a place by the fire, trying to look as if he belonged here like they did. Trying too hard. He kept his head down, just glancing up with dark eyes now and then to see if anyone was seeing him back, the muscles around his mouth tense.

I almost didn’t speak to him, partly because I’ve been doing this long enough to know you don’t poke a coiled snake and partly because I thought I’d seen him with the prisoner before. But if that was true, why would he now be rubbing shoulders with the men who arrested him?

I took a chance.


peters-denial“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” I said.

“I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he flashed back, too quickly. I’d heard that before—those words were how a rabbi denied something legally. Without another glance at me, he walked away from the fire to the entryway of the courtyard. He was obviously guilty of something, and I wondered if Malchus and the others around me needed to know. This was the biggest trial I’d ever seen the high priest organize—what if this man was significant?

“This fellow is one of them,” I said, raising my voice so the men around me could hear over the crowd. I caught the eye of the biggest one and motioned with my chin toward the entry.

“I’m not, woman!” he said, turning toward me and holding up an arm as if to warn me to stay silent. But by this point I didn’t need to say anything else; other members of the crowd were joining in, saying, “Didn’t I see you at the olive grove?” “You are also one of them!” I watched him as the accusations and questions increased in intensity. He went from looking angry to looking afraid, darting his gaze from one person to another.

“You are one of his followers, you’re a Galilean,” one said. “This man was with him,” said another. The shouting grew louder. Finally he reached his breaking point, and sputtered out a stream of curses before saying with a final swear, “I don’t know who you’re talking about!”

peters-denial2There was a split second of stunned silence, broken by the crow of a rooster. The unusual sound jolted us back into conversation and out of our interest in the man and his panic. But I kept watching, as he heard the rooster and looked as if he’d been struck. I saw him immediately lose interest in the crowd now losing interest in him, and watched as he craned over their heads to see the arrested man in the chambers where the Sanhedrin gathered. The man was calmly looking back at him through the chaos, with a look that was knowing and compassionate and sad all at once.

There was work to be done and it was time for my break to be over. Apparently this strange straggler really didn’t know Jesus and really wasn’t that important. So I let it go. The last I saw him he was crying. I’m not sure if he was sad or scared.

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