In the Courtyard of the High Priest

John 18:12-27

JohnThen the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest's courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, "I am not." It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. "I have spoken openly to the world," Jesus replied. "I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said."

When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. "Is this the way you answer the high priest?" he demanded. "If I said something wrong," Jesus replied, "testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it, saying, "I am not." One of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.



Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The scene now changes from the Garden across the Kidron valley to the courtyard of the High Priest. In John's version of the story Jesus is taken first to Annas, the father-in-law of the reigning high priest Caiaphas. Presumably Annas who had been deposed by the Romans remained a powerful figure. Jesus will be interrogated by the religious authorities in preparation for his formal trial before Pilate.

But for John the deeper motif of this scene remains one of contrasts: between Jesus and his opponents and between Jesus and Peter.

As in the arrest scene Jesus boldly confronts his opponents. In words reminiscent of chapter 8 of the Gospel, John presents Jesus as the embodiment of "truth"--the ultimate truth of God's love for the world. Jesus has openly proclaimed this truth in his words and actions (18:20). In John's theology, truth has an inherently "public" character. Those who speak the truth or seek to discover it, are not afraid to come into the light (3:19-21) but those whose lives are built on falsehood or who shy from the truth prefer to live in darkness and to operate in secret. Thus Judas and his armed band had come to arrest Jesus in the darkness (ironically, carrying lanterns and torches...18:3). And so, too, the High Priest fails to recognize the Truth of God that stands before him bound as a prisoner.

John also tells the story of Peter's denial. Here the contrast is between the fearless public witness that Jesus gives before his captors and the weakness of the disciple who denies his discipleship when confronted with the question of a maidservant. Peter had boldly affirmed that he would lay down his life for Jesus and insisted that he would follow Jesus wherever he would go (13:36-38). But he had underestimated the power of darkness and the cost of discipleship. In the crisis of the passion he fails.

But the Gospel does not abandon Peter. He will witness the empty tomb and ponders its meaning (20:6-9) and finally, in the exquisite story of the breakfast on the shore of the lake (ch, 21), the Risen Christ will heal Peter's broken discipleship with a threefold confession of love and entrust him with the mission of serving the community.

John also introduces a new element into this story. Peter is able to enter the courtyard because of "another disciple" known to the High Priest (20:15). This is most likely the "beloved disciple"--that mysterious figure in John's Gospel who represents authentic discipleship. He, along with the Mother of Jesus, will be the witnesses to Jesus' death (19:26,35-36).

John's sense of contrast and irony continue to add deep levels of meaning to the passion story: truth and falsehood, strength and weakness are revealed in the crisis moment of suffering.

top of page