Underestimating the Enemy

By Chuck Alley

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 22:54-69

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” 57But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” 60But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62And he went out and wept bitterly.

63 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; 64they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” 65They kept heaping many other insults on him.

66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. 67They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; 68and if I question you, you will not answer. 69But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”


It is hard to prepare for conflict when you do not know your enemy and his resources. As a general approaches a battle, he prepares first by gathering intelligence. This entails trying to find out the armaments at his disposal, the routes he might use to engage in the battle, and the techniques he has employed in past battles. But perhaps even more important than these is determining who the enemy is — how they think, where their talents lie, and what they value or hate. Ignorance of the enemy or a miscalculation about them will usually spell defeat.

Doing battle successfully requires not only knowing all we can about the enemy, but also being realistic about the resources we have at our disposal. St. Peter failed on both counts — he underestimated the enemy and overestimated his personal resources (22:33). In addition to attempting to take on the battle by himself, he failed by thinking that the enemy was outside himself. By sleeping instead of praying in the garden (22:45), St. Peter was unprepared for the attack that came that same night. What he underestimated about the nature of the enemy, however, was that he, St. Peter, had been infiltrated by the enemy through the Trojan horse of his own overconfidence. Once out of the comfortable surroundings of like-minded friends and Jesus, St. Peter was controlled by his own insecure need for self-preservation. By yielding to his fear, St. Peter cut himself off from the only one who could have helped him — Jesus, whom he denied.

We should not underestimate the power of sinful self-interest in our lives, but rather should pray that we will be empowered to stand firm in the faith when we are tested, and to stand before the Son of Man when he comes.

Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.

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Diocese of Puerto Rico and the Rev. Rafael Morales Maldonado
Diocese of Connecticut and the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas
Diocese of Connor (Ireland) and the Rt. Rev. Alan Francis Abernethy
Episcopal Church of St. Alban the Martyr, Queens, N.Y.


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