And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
This quote doesn’t come from this chapter, of course, but I think it really comes into its own here. Peter is a character of absolutes, like stone. Early in the chapter, Peter objects to Jesus washing his feet, I suppose horrified by the idea of the master stooping so low. He isn’t just upset. He refuses, saying that Jesus will NEVER wash HIS feet. That is, until Jesus tells Peter that it is required to have a part with him. Then, Peter wants the full body experience! With Peter, it’s all or nothing.
Fast forward a bit, and we hear Jesus telling the disciples that they will all fall away in his time of trial. And, of course, up jump Peter to deny this. Even if it means his death, Peter says, he will never abandon Jesus. Sure and solid as a rock, like always. So Jesus sets the stage for what is to come, saying that Peter will deny him three time before the rooster crows.
I don’t doubt that those words of Jesus were on Peter’s mind when Judas and the temple soldiers came to arrest Jesus. So Peter reacted with quick action, cutting off Mulchus’ ear. Peter was going to prove to Jesus that he was his rock! Unfortunately for Peter, that wasn’t the end.
Finally, we come to the encounter outside the house of the high priest. Peter isn’t threatened with swords. Peter the rock knows how to break swords. He was threatened with words – not his strong suit, to be sure. And so he denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows. And this is the critical point for Peter, the rock. Jesus looks at him. Pierces him with his glance, at the moment of betrayal.
I think that the “traditional” interpretation of this is that Jesus is expressing sorrow at Peter’s betrayal, as well as compassion for him. Certainly Peter felt that sorrow, running off to weep “bitterly.” But I think it goes beyond that.
I think Jesus was preparing Peter for his role as the rock, the foundation, of the church.
Up to this point, Peter had been the rough, hard, shapeless block (or perhaps blockHEAD) of stone. But to be useful, Peter needed to be shaped. He needed to have the excess bits chipped away. The weaknesses and flaws exposed, so that he could bear the weight that was expected of him. Like a stone mason using a hammer and chisel, Jesus’ simple glance had applied just the right pressure at just the right point. Jesus had broken Peter open, leaving him stronger to face the future.