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Gospel of Matthew 26: 30-35 (NIV)
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
34 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.”
35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Have you ever made a promise to somebody only to realise, some time later, that you would not be able to keep it? Sometimes we commit to a course of action without understanding all the variables of life which interfere with our seeing that course of action through to its anticipated conclusion. Such variables of life can include inclement weather, reliance on mechanical or electronic aids that fail and even the unreliability of other people.
We like to think, however, that our own determination is strong and our own commitment to follow through on an undertaking can be trusted. This short passage reveals otherwise.
Jesus’ foreknowledge of his immediate fate was accurate to the last detail. He knew what was about to happen to him. He also knew what would be the reactions of his closest followers to the events about to unfold. We can assume that his deep knowledge of the intent of the Hebrew Scriptures (verse 31 recalling Zechariah 13: 7b) and his continuous communion with God the Father enabled him to know what his disciples did not.
Peter did not know himself anywhere near as well as Jesus did. His voiced intentions were stated not once but twice: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will,” and then, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” How patient Jesus was, how patient Jesus is, with human frailty. Lest we judge Peter harshly, it would be prudent to recognise and admit the gaps in our own self-knowledge.
Does this mean that none of us is responsible for failing to keep our promises? I do not think so. Everybody reading this page has opportunity to think before speaking and to reflect before acting. All are invited into prayerful communion with the Father through the Son. Our planning should not be in isolation of God but in association with him, seeking his will and striving then to accomplish it within our own set of circumstances. We would be wise to heed the advice in the Epistle of James: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that,’” (James 4: 15, best read in the context of James 4: 13-17).