A Rooster and Some Sheep: God’s Subtle Humor

God has a subtle and imaginative sense of humor in my experience—wonderful in its unpredictability. Imagine using a rooster in one of the most poignant stories in all of scripture. On the surface, the story of Peter and the rooster seems more tragic than transforming. He is one of Jesus’ closest disciples. He says he will never leave Jesus. He boasts of his fidelity. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, on Jesus’ last night before he died, Peter is among the most intimate friends of Jesus. So if anyone would be true to his master, it would be Peter

Yet Jesus warns him, “Peter, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (Mark 14:20). Peter protests Jesus’ words vehemently. Yet within hours he is waiting outside the court where Jesus is being accused and a maid recognizes him as one of Jesus’ followers. He denies that he is one of them. . I know God had enormous compassion on Peter, yet it also seemed like Peter needed a wake up call, a wall experience, to fully become the rock he was called to be.

I’d like to stop and imagine what was going through Peter’s mind when that woman recognizes him as a disciple that night. For me it would be fear and a sense of self-preservation. When fear takes a strong grip on my heart I usually freeze. I feel there is no escape unless I capitulate to the fear and do whatever I need to do to relieve the immediate danger, hoping the threat will go away. Peter is no different. He denies Jesus, thinking the fear and threat will go away. But it doesn’t. He denies Jesus twice more in short order and then—the fateful moment—he hears the rooster crowing to the dawn. This is his moment of truth. He remembers Jesus’ words and he falls apart with shame.

I’ve been there too, with the stark realization that I have done myself in. I have failed myself, others—even God—by not facing my fear. It is the hardest thing for me to do, face my fears head on. For me to face my fear, usually the threat needs to get pretty bad or repeat itself over and over so I can’t deny it any more. Or the threat needs to drive me to God where I gain the strength to face my fear even though the consequences seem overwhelming.

One of my most threatening work situations occurred early in my career when I was working in an exciting new college that was on the cutting edge of its field. I was the major wage earner in my marriage because my husband was in graduate school. I loved my work of advising and teaching adult students. The trouble started when my boss began asking me to work late on special projects. We were the only two in his office and he came up behind me, putting his hands on my shoulders and rubbing my back. I was uncomfortable but said nothing. I thought he was just being nice. But one night he came up behind me did something very inappropriate. I was shocked and did not welcome his advances, but he was my boss. I was afraid. And this behavior came at a time when sexual harassment was not yet a household word. I didn’t know what to do, whom to tell. I wondered if it might have been my fault because I had let him rub my shoulders.

He had control of my job. I couldn’t afford to lose it since I was the major wage earner. I was young. I was petrified. I was stuck. I was like Peter. I stayed in denial, trying to work harder and be better. But nothing helped. He insisted on driving me home from work one night and veered into a parking lot, being even more sexually explicit. I told him I was not interested in this kind of a relationship. I just wanted to do a good job in the workplace.

But now I knew I had to face this fear or I would start to die emotionally. Somehow I knew that instinctively. I begged God for a way out. In my next performance review I said that I thought our working styles were incompatible. He said that I had become a problem in the office and that he was going to talk to his boss about me. Then out of my mouth came these words, “Well, if you are talking to your boss about me, than I’m going to talk to your boss’ boss.” The words shocked me. They came from a place deep inside, a little box labeled “Risk. Use only when absolutely necessary.” But they were out there and I had to act.

So with much trepidation, I went to talk to the vice president. I didn’t mention the sexual behavior but said our working styles were incompatible. I think he knew more than he let on, though he said nothing to me directly. The next week he gave me another job and I never worked for my old boss again. I had faced my worst fears; fear of conflict, financial insecurity, public shame and recrimination. With help from above, support from my husband, and help from the college vice president it all worked out. Now I can even have compassion on that boss because I realize the cycle of addiction he was living but at the time it was my nightmare work experience.

I felt God’s compassion for me in this crisis, and also a bit of God’s subtle humor when those words literally flew out of my mouth. If I had thought about them, I never would have said them. And once they were out, how would I proceed? I think this was an example of God’s divine way of helping me to move forward by facing my fear. Afterwards I felt differently about myself. I was a better risk taker. I had more inner confidence. I had a voice. Now I see it as one of the early turning points of my life.

What about Peter? He was filled with fear. He denied Jesus. And then a lowly rooster brings Peter to his knees. I experience this as a moment of compassion and subtle humor, which may have softened the blow for Peter as it did for me.

But the rooster is not the end of the story for Peter. He repents. He learns. He becomes a trustworthy disciple. He becomes the rock of the church. Jesus later redeems him by asking Peter three times if Peter loves him. Then he asks him to feed his sheep; such a sweet way to forgive and transform him. God uses roosters and sheep, simple farm animals, to transform Peter. Can’t you just imagine God with a little smile of humor and understanding?
© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

When have you had a “Peter” moment in your life that lead to a different way of being or living in the world? What was it and how did it emerge?

What kind of letting go is God asking of you as you journey forward?

Is fear a factor in your next phase of the journey? If so how do you deal with it?

How is fear a friend or a teacher for you?