Seized from the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken to the courtyard. Peter followed from a distance and watched among the guards as a makeshift trial unraveled. Mark describes the unfolding scene: “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.“(1)
In this courtyard was a mob of witnesses. Priests, guards, and passersby—the whole Sanhedrin—made their ways to the scene. Testimonies were spouted from all angles, their statements contradicting one another, stories disproving other stories. We are not told whether Peter added anything vocally to this cacophony of dissenting and differing voices. Yet, to be sure, even choosing to stand in silence, he was still choosing a testimony of sorts. Later, he would offer that testimony in words: “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”(2)
Two millennia after this scene of witnesses at odds, we live our lives, no matter what we believe, in a similar courtyard. Here, with or without evidence, testimonies are shouted all around. Most not only disagree but contradict one another; some void of anything more than preference are presented nonetheless as if standing before a grand jury. We hear closing statements as vitriolic as the chief priests and as evasive as the man who once told his friend, “Some people like white wine, others like red. You like Reformed Christianity, my brother Hans likes the Seventh Day Adventists, I like no religion at all…[E]ach individual should be free to choose whatever is his or her personal preference, and we will respect each other’s choice.”(3)
In these days of preference and pedigree, our own witness is worth bearing in mind. For whether we are shouting like the chief priests or hiding like Peter, we are all bearing witness to something. The man in the corner watching Jesus’s trial with disinterest is still giving an answer to the question of the court. Whether offended, awed, or indifferent, the question we answer is the same. “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?” “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy,” asked others. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”(4) The role of witness is as unavoidable today as it was in the courtyard hours before Jesus was sentenced to die. “We speak about God without opening our mouths,” says Albert Holtz. “What are the chances that by watching me a person can learn that God is love.”(5)
Voluntary or otherwise, at the heart of our role as witnesses is our answer to the very question Jesus embodies, “Who do you say that I am?” And while your answer is hopefully more than mere preference, it is worth realizing that we are answering with every ordinary moment of our lives. Some of the loudest testimonies are often spoken without words. Peter’s silence was equally a part of his three-time denial of ever knowing the man on trial.
Yet Peter also followed from a distance, his mind racing with both fear and love. We, too, are looking in on a great trial, sometimes participating, sometimes denying him, sometimes hearing our voices and with the shock of recognition, a rooster crowing in the distance. The courtyard is still full of witnesses at odds, sometimes at odds even with themselves. But you, too, stand a witness to something.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Mark 14:55-59.
(2) Mark 14:71.
(3) Charles Van Engen, You Are My Witnesses (New York: Reformed Church Press, 1992), 4.
(4) See Matthew 8:27, Luke 5:21.
(5) Albert Holtz, Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 2006), 121.