Three independent sources today pointing me at Peter's denial of and reconciliation with Christ. Here is where I got to with imaginative contemplation...
Oh, Peter. Bless you. In the first Last Supper chapter of John's gospel (Jn 13:37-38, for those who are counting),* Peter is all: "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Aww, sweet. But then Jesus says "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times." Whoa, where did that come from?
This is Peter, who abandons his fishing business to follow an itinerant rabbi (Lk 5), who is all 'You are the Christ, the son of the Living God' (Mt 16:16) and who is so happy just to see Jesus that he walks across the water to him (Mt 14). He was even one of the three disciples at the Transfiguration (Mt 17) where God actually came right out and said 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.' With all those really really obvious God-signals, there's no way, absolutely no way that Peter would ever deny Christ.
Except this is Peter, lovable menacely Peter, who freaks out about walking on water the minute he starts focusing on himself (Mt 14), who tells Christ he Must Not Die (Mk 8), and is so generally confused and befuddled that when he does have an insight, Christ remarks that it must have been revealed to him by 'my Father in heaven' (Mt 15), charitably omitting 'because there's no way you'd have figured that out yourself'.
So God is right (who guessed?), and Peter will indeed disown Christ three times. And the incarnate God, who might reasonably be regretting the whole 'free will' thing right about now, since this is the second of his disciples to go a bit wobbly in this chapter**, lets him. Sits there, and loves him, and lets him, and forgives him. It's reasonably heartbreaking to be disowned three times by the same person, and I imagine it's even more irritating when you know (because you're God) that it's a bad bad plan. In the moment when every teaching instinct in my soul screams to just tell Peter not to do it, to save him from his own mistake, Jesus lets him learn for himself, even bearing the cost of that betrayal.
And there the tale might have ended. But Christ is not only reconciled with him, he chooses Peter to be head of his church, and gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Jn 21, Mt 16).*** As a certain Jesuit mentioned in a homily today
, Peter's reconciled love for Christ is intertwined with his call to service for Christ: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Love leads us to service, or it is no love.
This week the latest successor of Peter has chosen as his motto 'miserando atque eligendo' which means "because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him." It's a Bede commentary on the calling of Matthew the tax collector as a disciple (Mt 9): "Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men." He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: 'Follow me.' This following meant imitating the pattern of his life - not just walking after him. St. John tells us: 'Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.'" Miserando atque eligendo - Peter, Matthew, Pope Francis, and each one of us, called and loved not for our strength and our surety, but in our weakness. As a dear colloquial theology might have parsed it, 'because I am a menace'.
*John's Gospel is a director's cut in which the Last Supper is essentially a framing device for most of the stuff that Jesus said, and covers five whole chapters. Aaron Sorkin or How I Met Your Mother would have had lots of it as flashbacks, but I'm not sure that was a narrative technique at the time.
**Judas being the first.
***Many centuries later, King Cnut will return from Rome and excitedly tell all his courtiers that this Pope guy they have been ignoring is actually incredibly important because he holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. But he will still scold the Pope for charging too much for archbishop vestments. Bless his mercenary Viking socks.