Scared at a fish fry
Mark 14:50 “And having left him, they all fled.”
Jesus already told them that they all would flee – that they all would flee (Mk. 14:27). In fact, Mark’s Greek word is “scandalized.” Church tradition, because of the later scandal of Peter’s denial, only focuses upon how Peter denied Jesus. Peter, after all, had told Jesus specifically that he would not “scandalize” Jesus (Mk. 14:29). We all know that Peter would deny Jesus not once or twice, but three times. Such is history. Such is the story of Peter: following Jesus until the trial scenes, then failure.
But like we’ve already seen, Jesus foretold the failure of all the disciples. All of them. Jesus knew that his future was if anything, alone. Since the church typically separates these two parts of Jesus’s story (Jesus’s ministry, then Jesus’s passion week), we miss this powerful fact. Jesus’s ministry has been constantly done with others. At every turn, even when debating other religious authorities, Jesus’s closest disciples stayed with him. At all times, unless Jesus specifically went off for a short time to pray, Jesus was with his friends. Peter, James, and John share the most time with Jesus. He wasn’t alone physically, though he might have felt like that emotionally or vocationally.
Not so here. Once Jesus is arrested, they all flee. Everyone. If we were to read or hear this story from top to bottom, this fact would be striking. No more teachings. No more healings. No more late-night prayers. No more camp meetings with fried fish. No more riddles about the Kingdom. No more big crowds. No more fanfare. Now it’s only Jesus and those who oppose him.
But where did the disciples go? Have you ever wondered that? Besides Peter for a short while, where-in-the-world are all the disciples? James? Levi? Andrew? Thomas? Philip? Anyone else? What about random people who followed him? Where are they now? Bartimaeus? The man with the withered hand? Anyone? Even Lazarus? I mean, come on! That guy was dead! All these characters went out of the story as fast as they came in. The Gospels all make it clear that no miracle – no healing or exorcism or feeding – ever makes a faithful disciple. Why?
Because faith in Jesus in the Gospels is linked with submitting to both his identity (as God’s chosen anointed one embodying the Kingdom) and his mission (to proclaim the impending reign of God), even when faced with persecution and shame (i.e., "carrying your cross").
So where are they now? Are they having a fish-fry? Playing cards down at grandma’s house? Are they somewhere in Jerusalem for Passover too? Are they watching from a distance but never show up again? Who knows? The Gospels never tell us. But, it is a pertinent question to ask, I think. And here’s why.
How quick is your part in the story? Is your story in the narrative of the work of Jesus easily forgotten? Are you seeking a miracle and not the miracle worker? Are you seeking a straight hand or clear sight but not an obedient faith? Where are you now – right now, spiritually – in the work of the Kingdom? The reign of God is still very active everyday in people all over the world. It is bursting in over and over every time someone behaves like Jesus of Nazareth.
Where are you when it matters? I disagree with the common sentiment. True character is not shown when we are alone. It is shown in the heat of the moment, when others are looking, when the reign of the Kingdom demands proper behavior: like the disciples at Jesus’s side. Are you one of those people who succumb to “peer pressure”? Why? Is the claim on your life not more important than the heat of the moment?
We simply have to decide. We simply must come to a conclusion before the heat. We must either decide that “picking up the cross of following Jesus” is what we are about, or stop pretending.
Like Peter in the story, denying Jesus once, twice, or three times doesn’t mean we will not be loved or used by God. But a pattern of denying Jesus means we are telling the truth.
I would hope that in a moment like this, a moment demanding that I “pick up my cross and follow,” I would succeed. I would hope that my story would be the tale of how to do it right. I pray it would. For too much of my life I’ve been busy at a “fish-fry,” not busy with the Kingdom.
Where are you now in this story? Are you running away?