[Author’s note: The following fictional “dialogue” between the apostle Peter and his interlocutor, Boso, concerns events leading up to and including the betrayal and arrest of Jesus on Thursday of Passion Week. For the setting, I imagine a recorded interview or informal deposition taking place in the modern day as Peter reflects back on his own perspective of events. Several gaps in the biblical story have been filled in with plausible explanations or outright speculations. I do not allege that my creative additions have any basis in demonstrable history.]
BOSO: Now go back to the garden that night of his arrest.
BOSO: What did Jesus do after he asked you to watch and pray?
PETER: He wandered into the olive trees and began weeping, and throwing himself on the ground, and begging God to save him.
BOSO: What was he saying, exactly?
PETER: Well, we caught snippets of it. He wasn’t too far off, and we were originally trying to pray, but he was causing such noise that it was hard for us to do it. He was saying things like, “Abba!”… that means “Papa”… “You can do anything. Take this cup away from me. But let it be done the way you want, not the way I want.”
BOSO: And what were you praying?
PETER: Well, I started praying for him. I was concerned about him. He was convulsing, and shivering, and pounding on the ground. I just wanted him to have some peace. So I kept praying, “God, have mercy on him. Have mercy.” Then I fell asleep.
BOSO: You fell asleep?
PETER: We all did. James and John, too. James was actually snoring. Then Jesus crawled over to us and shook us awake. He was sweating like crazy. And it was cold out that night. A chill wind had blown down from the mountain. He didn’t look like himself. He looked like he had been rained on. I thought he had dipped his head in the cistern nearby. But it was sweat.
BOSO: What did he say to you?
PETER: He said, “Simon, why are you sleeping? Couldn’t you watch for even an hour with me? Keep watching. Keep praying. It’s the only way to keep you from stumbling. You have a willing spirit, but your flesh is weak.” So I tried to wake myself up and keep praying.
BOSO: Did Jesus go back to pray?
PETER: Yes. And I prayed, too, for a little while. But for some reason we were just exhausted. And I fell asleep again. I just couldn’t stay awake. Jesus shook me on the shoulder again and asked me to keep praying. I didn’t say anything. I just slapped myself in the face a few times and tried to wake up. But it didn’t work.
BOSO: You fell asleep again?
PETER: James and John, too. In fact, I don’t even think John woke up the second time Jesus came. He just moaned and stirred. I think he even said “Amen.”
BOSO: Then what?
PETER: The next time I woke up from a clank at the garden gate. I heard some voices through the trees and Jesus was kneeling beside us. He had a new look on his face. He was at peace. Something changed. He even smiled just a little at me. And I think he had tears in his eyes. He shook his head and said to us, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It’s over. Time’s up.” He pointed toward the commotion and started getting up onto his feet. And he said, “Look, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.” I wasn’t sure what was going on. I was still trying to clear my head. I rubbed my eyes and felt for my sword. Then he said, “Come on, get up. Time to go. Look. The one betraying me just showed up.”
BOSO: Who was he referring to?
PETER: Judas Iscariot. He had led the temple guards to the garden. You have to realize that the Mount of Olives had a bunch of walled gardens, back to back, side by side. The authorities knew Jesus and his disciples would often retreat there, but they had no way of knowing which garden we were in. And even if they figured it out, they couldn’t get through the gate. It was private property and without Roman permission the temple guards couldn’t just barge in on somebody’s locked garden. So Judas not only led them to the right garden, he also got the gate-keeper to open the gate from the inside and let him in. You see, they all knew us, so Judas’s face would have been familiar. I suppose the one who opened the gate thought Judas was just arriving late.
BOSO: Do you know who it was that let Judas into the garden that night?
PETER: Yes. It was John Mark, the son of Mary of Cyrene, the woman who owned the garden. Like I said earlier, Mark had been staying on the property that night in one of the servant’s quarters to make room for Passover guests at their home in the city. The olive garden was mostly his responsibility anyway. But he had been roused from his sleep and was visiting with the eight disciples near the gate when Judas came calling. He didn’t know Judas had brought soldiers until Judas already entered the garden. Poor Mark. He was still in his night clothes when Judas showed up.
BOSO: Then what happened?
PETER: Well, I followed behind Jesus. I was off to his right. James was on his left. And John was still wiping sleep from his eyes behind us. I saw Judas burst through the gate and head straight for Jesus. He kissed him on the cheek and said, “Rabbi!” As if he had been searching all over for him. Well, by this time soldiers had already started filing in through the gate. Judas sort of jumped back and acted, well, kind of like he was surprised to see soldiers there. He said, “What? Who?” And he stuck his hand out and opened his mouth like he was going to tell them to leave. Little Mark sort of backed behind a tree near the entrance. He wasn’t dressed for this. And the other disciples all stood up and started retreating back toward us.
BOSO: What did Jesus do? Did he try to escape?
PETER: No. At first he just ignored the soldiers and looked straight at Judas and shook his head. He said, “Oh, Judas. Is this how you betray me? With a kiss?” Of course, Judas acted offended. He put his hand on his chest and shook his head, as if Jesus was jumping to the wrong conclusion. As if the crowd just happened to follow Judas here. But Jesus just raised his hand and said, “Friend, you’ve come to do something. Just do it.”
PETER: Then a couple soldiers with swords passed around Judas and headed for Jesus. They actually had ropes to bind him. Swords, ropes, and clubs. They obviously didn’t know Jesus. Then Jesus said, “Whom are you seeking?” One of the soldiers said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” They were quite close now. And Jesus said, “I am he.” And he reached out his hands to be bound!
BOSO: He offered himself up to be arrested?
PETER: Well, yes. But the soldiers thought he was pulling out a sword or something, because when he reached out his hands to surrender, they jumped back, startled. He tripped on the other soldier and by now so many had bunched up behind them that several actually fell backward onto the ground! A couple of the disciples laughed. But Judas helped the first soldier up.
BOSO: What were you doing at this time?
PETER: Well, I kept looking for a chance to strike. And this confusion seemed to offer me one. From behind me I heard John whisper, “Peter! Do something!” So just as the soldiers neared us, I said, “Lord, I have my sword…” But Jesus interrupted me and said to the soldiers who were getting up from the ground, “Whom do you seek?” They answered, “I told you already, Jesus of Nazareth.” And Jesus said, “And I told you I’m the one you’re looking for. I offered you my hands in peaceful surrender, but you’re coming at me with so many sticks and clubs and swords you can’t even walk without tripping on yourselves. Here I am. Take me. Only let these men go their way.”
BOSO: So you were just standing there?
PETER: Yeah. But the closer Jesus got to turning himself in, the worse I felt about it. So I assumed Jesus was just trying to stall. To give me a chance to strike. And while one of the High Priest’s men was nearby, peering past me deeper into the garden to see just how many men there were lurking in the dark, I realized I had to do something right away or nothing at all. Soldiers were still coming in through the narrow gate. I glanced over and saw at least six or seven of them already. Within a few seconds there would be too many for us to overcome and drive out of the garden. So I just acted. Impulsively.
BOSO: What did you do?
PETER: I whipped out my sword and swung it at the servant. I aimed for his neck… a death blow. But I’ve never been great with a sword. He turned away at the last second to dodge my swing and I sliced his ear off. His right ear. This one here. He shrieked. Definitely wasn’t expecting that. The soldiers suddenly pulled their swords and jumped back. The other disciples all turned to see what was happening. His ear just dangled there by the lobe. Judas actually caught him from falling and guards coming to arrest Jesus stopped in their tracks. But it worked. The guard coming through the gate stopped. The others behind him started mumbling. I shouted across the crowd, “Mark, close the gate!”
BOSO: So you were trying to take control?
PETER: It made the most sense. Somebody had to. Jesus was backing down. Surrendering! I took my place in front of Jesus and held the sword up above my chest with both hands. And then I heard Jesus’s voice in my ear behind me. As the soldiers inched closer, Jesus said, “Stop this, Peter. Put your sword away. You know better than this. If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword.”
BOSO: What did you do?
PETER: Nothing at first. I said, “But I told you before, I’ll fight and die for you.” But Jesus touched my forearm to lower the weapon and he whispered into my ear as he passed by me: “Don’t you know that I could call twelve legions of angels from heaven to wipe these men out? But everything in Scripture will be fulfilled.” So I lowered my sword and watched Jesus walk over to the temple servant, pass his hands over the side of his head, and re-attach the man’s ear. The bleeding stopped, no scar, nothing. He healed the man’s ear that I had lopped off.
BOSO: And what did you do?
PETER: I dropped my sword and ran. Ran. Immediately Jesus stepped forward again, his hands out in surrender.