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Yes and No -- John 12:12-19, John 18:15-27 (Palm Sunday/ Passion Sunday)




Artwork: “Then They Remembered” by Lisle Gwynn Garrity,

used with permission via Sanctified Art | sanctifiedart.org




Holy Week begins with a big “YES!” – here, on Palm Sunday.


We know that, getting to this moment, Jesus has faced his share of challenges – the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the religious leadership. And, we know that as Jesus moves on into Holy Week, trouble lies ahead.


But here, in this moment, on Palm Sunday, as Jesus enters Jerusalem,

the crowd says, “YES!”

         The crowd shouts, “Hosanna!”

         The crowd proclaims Jesus: King.


As we have moved through Lent with Peter, in the other Gospels we’ve heard Jesus ask the question: “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”  This morning, we turn to the Gospel of John – the Gospel where the Word becomes flesh and dwells in the midst of us.[1] In its own way, the Gospel of John gives us – the readers, the hearers – the opportunity to see for ourselves – and to hear for ourselves – and to come to trust who Jesus is.

        

Here in John 12, the crowd gives one answer to the question of who Jesus is: “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of God! Blessed is the King of Israel!”  Jesus rides in on a young donkey – and they remember the words of the prophet – “Behold your king is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”  The crowd waves palm branches – a sign of victory – behold not only your king – but a victorious king.[2]  They shout Hosanna!and proclaim Jesus King.

        

But even as loud as that shout may be, it’s not entirely clear that they have a full and shared understanding of what all this means.[3]


·      The Scripture says it plain: The disciples – they don’t understand at all. “At first, his disciples did not understand this... it was only later after he was glorified... crucified... that they understood.”


·      The crowd really understands only that Jesus has done miraculous things. Hosanna!


·      Now, the Pharisees – the Pharisees get what’s going on here, at least in terms of the power dynamic  – “The crowd is going after him – this Jesus – they are not following us – this is getting us nowhere.” They realize he is a threat to their power. And that, that, will be the death of Jesus.

        

We... we know the whole story, so we know that the One they call king – five days from now, as Jesus hangs on the cross, Pilate will have the soldiers put up a sign that says, “This is the King of the Jews.”

        

As the echoes of Hosanna! fade, we know the trajectory of Holy Week. From the other gospels, we know that Jesus will now begin to face down the religious authorities – and as they are provoked, they get angrier and angrier. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus begins to prepare his disciples. Just after he enters into Jerusalem – just after all the palms branches and Hosannas! – Jesus tells the disciples that he will die, that his time has come. He gathers them for one last meal – and he washes their feet. He tells them that he will be betrayed – by one of them. And he prays – for them, for everyone, for what’s about to happen.

        

And the soldiers come with Judas. Jesus is praying in the garden, and the soldiers and religious officials show up with torches and weapons. Jesus asks who they are looking for. They say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” And Jesus says plainly – “I am he” – or really just, “I AM.”[4] Peter, never one slow to act, has a sword, and cuts off the ear of one the high priest’s servants – but Jesus stops him before he strikes again: This is what I said is coming.

        

And we come to this morning’s second Scripture. And the shouts of the crowd from Palm Sunday – all those Hosannas – are replaced by the heartbreaking sound of Peter’s “No... no... no.”

        

When Jesus is arrested, all the other disciples fade away – they’re nowhere to be seen. But Peter and another disciple (who is known to the high priest – who has access) – they follow where the soldiers take Jesus. The other disciple gets to go in right away. He goes into the courtyard of the high priest – it’s an open-air courtyard. In one part of the courtyard, the high priest is questioning Jesus. In another, the servants and the soldiers have made a fire, and they are warming their hands in the chill of the night.  The other disciple puts in a good word for Peter, and a servant girl goes and lets him in through the gate. She’s the first one to ask the question, “Wait ... you’re not a disciple of this guy, are you?”

        

And Peter says, “No.”

        

Notice there are two interrogations going on here. Jesus. And Peter.[5]

        

Peter goes and stands with the soldiers, warming his hands by the fire – while the high priest interrogates Jesus. The high priest asks Jesus about his teaching and his disciples – Are you the one stirring up trouble? Jesus answers: Ask the people who have been following me – ask them what they have seen and heard.  Are you the one? Basically, Yes, I am.

        

Meanwhile, there Peter is standing with the soldiers warming his hands by the fire. And one of them turns to him, “Wait, you’re not a disciple of this guy, are you?” And for a second time, Peter says, “No, I am not.”


And then for a third time, someone asks. And this time, it’s someone who was there at the arrest: “Didn’t I see you in the olive grove with this Jesus?” And again, Peter denies Jesus, again he says, “No.”

        

Notice that these questions give Peter three chances to say “Yes.” The first two give Peter an easier out – they’re set up expecting a no:[6] “You’re not one of the followers of this guy, are you?” The third one though – it’s eyewitness testimony – “Hey. I was there in the olive grove when they arrested Jesus. Didn’t you cut off my cousin’s ear? Weren’t you there?” Peter has to work for that third NO.

        

Now, we know Peter by now. We know that he has followed Jesus – we know that he has seen things – and heard things. From the other gospels, we know that Peter has watched as Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law; that Peter has walked on water with Jesus; that when Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?” – for a moment Peter got it right – “You are the Christ.” And from the Gospel of John, we know that Peter has seen Jesus turn water into wine; feed the 5,000; and raise Lazarus from the dead. These questions give Peter the chance to claim what he has seen – to believe, to trust – to lean into it – to live it. They give Peter the chance to say YES to who Jesus is, and to go with Jesus into the fullness of life.

        

But not only that. These questions give Peter the chance to say YES to who he is in relationship to Jesus. That’s what these questions really put to Peter: “You’re not one of those who follow this Jesus, are you? The one who turns the tables in the Temple? Who helps the blind to see? Who sits at the well and at the table with those who have been cast out? Who stands at the tomb and weeps and calls the dead back to life? The one who causes all this trouble? You’re not one of those who follow him... Are you?”

        

And Peter says no. And then no. And then no.

        

And oh – I can’t imagine what that must’ve felt like. That third no.

        

Or maybe I can. When we tell this story, and hear that “No”... I can feel it right here.. in my gut. Can you? That’s really the brilliance of the Gospel of John. It brings us right on in – in the chill of that night – with Peter, warming our hands by the fire. And Peter says “no,” and the Gospel of John just leaves us there – wondering how Peter absorbed what he had just said. Peter fades out of view, really until Easter morning. The Gospel leaves us there with Peter.. with his “no” hanging in the air – and the question for Peter starts to feel like a question for us.


         “You’re not one of those who follows, Jesus, are you?” 


What would we have said? In that moment -- what will do?

        

Will we stay there warming our hands by the fire, as Jesus goes before Pontius Pilate? As he faces down the powers – and shows them what it is to be truly sovereign?

        

Will we warm our hands by the fire, as Jesus moves on into the fullness of human experience – into the suffering and the pain?

        

Will we warm our hands by the fire, as the hungry continue to cry out for food? As those who hurt cry out for help and healing?

        

Will we warm our hands by the fire, as the systems of the world continue to crush the poor, as our systems of racism and class and caste continue to harm and hurt so many?

        

Will we warm our hands by the fire, as we hear the cries from Gaza, and from Rafah, as the killing continues, and the famine, as man’s inhumanity to humanity grinds on?

        

Will we warm our hands by the fire, as the systems that sustain life on this Earth cascade into collapse?


Will we warm our hands by the fire, as Jesus shows us what it is to be fully human?

        

The Gospel of John brings us right into this story – where the Word becomes flesh and dwells in the midst of us – and these questions for Peter become questions for us.

With all that we have seen and heard with Peter, what will our Word be?

        

Peter says no. And it is harrowing. But we know that the Gospel does not leave us there.

        

As we move on into Holy Week, the NOs will keep coming – in our world too. The NOs of power-over, of deceit, of violence, of Gethsemane, and of the cross.

        

And notice this too: As the NOs of Holy Week continue to build,

                  Jesus continues to say YES.

        

Are you the one stirring up all this trouble? I AM

Are you the one who heals the hurting? I AM

Are you the one who sits at table with one who will betray you? I AM

Are you the one who washes the feet of those who serve you? I AM  

Are you the way, the truth, and the life? I AM

Are you the King who hangs on a cross, and even then, promises to somehow bring abundant life? I AM


As the NOs of Holy Week continue to build,

                  Jesus continues to say YES.


As we move on into Holy Week, the question for Peter is a question for us: Are you one of those who will follow Jesus – follow Jesus into the fullness of life, into the fullness of what it is to be human?


And as we carry that question, the invitation as we move on into Holy Week, is to listen and to look for – to see and hear and experience – all the ways that Jesus still continues to say YES: 


YES to walking toward our suffering and our pain.

YES to being right there with us in the depths.

YES to standing up to the powers of the world.

YES to compassion.

YES to love.

YES to life.

        

        

 © 2024 Scott Clark




[1] For general background on this text and the Gospel of John, see Gail O’Day and Susan E. Hylen, John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006); Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (New York: T&T Clark Publishing, 2005); Mary L. Coloe, PBVN,  John 11-21 (Wisdom Commentary, vol. 44B; Mary Ann Beavis and Barbara E. Reid, OP, eds.)(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2021); Mitzi Smith and Yung Suk Kim, “Gospel of John,” Toward Decentering the New Testament: A Reintroduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018); Meda Stamper, Commentary on Working Preacher, at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/peters-denial-2/commentary-on-john-1812-27

[2] See O’Day, p.124; Waetjen, p. 291.

[3] See O’Day, p.124.

[4] See Waetjen, p.379.

[5] See Coloe, p.288.

[6] See O’Day, p.172 compare with Waetjen, p. 383.

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