This is the backend of our two-part series commemorating the role of a rooster in the Lenten Season. The rooster serves as a reminder that humans are sometimes not strong enough to fully embrace Jesus.
Jesus’ statement that he will be disowned by Peter three times before the rooster crows may be the reason why the latter remained silent through the rest of the Last Supper, and only regained his confidence when he defended Jesus against the soldiers who came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
After his arrest, Jesus was taken to the High Priest’s house. There was some difficulty about which High Priest is meant here, since both are mentioned by the evangelists. It is quite possible that Caiaphas and Annas lived in adjoining houses in the wealthy Upper City of Jerusalem – or even in the same house. The buildings were closely packed and small, which is why many priests maintained second homes in the surrounding countryside.
It is a wonder that an outsider like Peter was there in the courtyard at all, especially as entry was limited: not just anyone could go into the courtyard.
How did he get in? According to John’s gospel, Peter had another unnamed disciple with him, one who knew the High Priest. This man was known to the woman who had custody of the main door, a sort of concierge. She recognized the unnamed disciple and let him and Peter come in as far as the central courtyard.
There were other people there gathered around an open fire. It was between seasons, so the night was cold.
The hearing that was going on inside the mansion/house took some time. In the meantime people waited.
As they stood around the fire the fortress/concierge looked more closely at Peter and listened to his Galilean accent. She was curious. She decided she had seen him before, possibly with Jesus, and questioned him. He, taken off guard, responded. No, he did not know Jesus, he said.
As soon as the words were out, Peter regretted them. Jesus’ prophetic warning, made so recently, had come true. Peter had denied his Lord.
Confused by his own cowardice, Peter fell silent. He waited. The danger seemed to have passed.
But now someone else took up the questioning, and they were more insistent. Again Peter responded, this time more emphatically. He did not know Jesus, had never heard of him.
Luke writes of Peter denying that he even knew Jesus, a description that makes the denial even worse.
Suddenly he heard the sound of a rooster crowing, and he remembered Jesus’ words – and his own brash confidence. He realized that: inside the house, Jesus was being jeered at for making a claim to be the Messiah; and outside in the courtyard, Jesus’ prophetic words had just been fulfilled.
Peter was distraught. He withdrew and wept bitter tears of remorse.
These tears were a turning point for him, as he acknowledged his own failings and repented for what he had done. This story of Peter’s denial undoubtedly offered encouragement to the early Christians, who were frequently challenged to acknowledge their own Christian beliefs. As we are today.