Monday, 28 August 2017 13:34

“Go Tell Peter”

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There is a phrase in the Gospel of Saint Mark that appears in none of the other three Gospels. It is unique to Saint Mark, and it relates to Saint Peter. We know from Acts of the Apostles and elsewhere that Saint Mark was Saint Peter’s traveling companion and secretary. His Gospel, therefore, has the authority of Saint Peter’s own personal testimony.

Saint Peter probably dictated this phrase personally to Saint Mark, insisting that he include it in his version of the Gospel story. The phrase that was enormously important to Saint Peter was addressed to Saint Mary Magdalene and was spoken by the risen Christ: “Go tell Peter to wait for Me in Galilee” (cf. Mk. 16:7). In order to appreciate the impact of the phrase, we must immerse ourselves in its context and circumstances.
Peter would have been keenly surprised to learn from Mary Magdalene that the Lord actually mentioned his name, sought him out, and focused on him His special attention. Peter received these words when he was sunk in self-disgust at having abandoned the Lord in His hour of greatest need. He fled like all the others, having boasted, “Even if all these others desert You, I will never desert You, even if it means dying for You” (Mt. 26:33). There is a Spanish hymn that contains the line, “I wanted to fly high, and here I am on the floor” (Quise volar alto, y aquí estoy en el suelo). These words describes Peter’s situation. It does not require any flight of the imagination to think of him asking Mary Magdalene to repeat the message, and inquiring if the Lord had really specifically mentioned him. Mary Magdalene would have insisted: “Yes, He specifically said, ‘Go tell Peter.’

Every Christmas Day, in Lauds, in the Spanish-speaking world, we pray another Spanish hymn that includes the line, “The most lost heart now knows that someone has come in search of it” (El corazón más perdido ya sabe que alguien le busca). It refers to God in the Child Jesus, who has come in search of us. Saint Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” but ever since the Incarnation each of us can add, “Your Heart is restless until it rests in me.” Our hearts long to rest in God, and God’s Heart longs to rest in us. He seeks us out in order to give and receive rest.

Jesus had foretold that they would strike the shepherd and the sheep would scatter. Now we see the risen Good Shepherd in search of the scattered flock. And Peter is among His first priorities, the undeserving Peter, the Peter of the triple denial, the Peter who deserted Him having sworn he would never do so. He fell asleep three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then followed from a distance. Bishop Sheen observed that when a priest follows Christ from afar, there’s always a girl nearby. Warming himself by the fire, Peter was confronted by a maidservant who challenged him about his friendship with Christ. He answered three times: “I don’t know Him … I do not know the man … I swear to you I do not know the man!” The cock crew, and Peter was confronted with the reality that he was a coward.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul displays awareness of the intentions of the devil when he has succeeded in making someone fall. He says that in such cases we must take great care with the afflicted person, “So that Satan might not outwit us, for we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 1:11). The schemes of Satan are always murderous. Saint Peter, after his denial, is tempted to self-loathing and utter despair. For this reason, Jesus does not immediately confront him about his guilt. On the contrary, Jesus appears to the apostles several times before bringing the matter up. He gives Peter time and space.
The human spirit is buoyant by nature. It bounces back. Sometimes it takes hours, other times it takes days or weeks, but eventually, it usually returns to the attack. (Someone I know and admire claims that in his lifetime he has suffered at least five mental breakdowns without ever missing a day of work because he couldn’t afford it!). This is all very well, but it is not sufficient, because if the root cause of the problem is not addressed, the cycle repeats itself over and over again. Indeed, things just go from bad to worse. There must be correction, apprenticeship, and maturation. The time will come when Peter is ready for that correction. Jesus waits with wisdom and gentleness, until the moment arrives.

When Saint John said, “It is the Lord!” Peter threw himself into the water and half ran, half swam, and waded to the shore. The Lord must have smiled: “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends” (Jn. 15:15). Peter was ready.
Three times Peter slept, three times he denied, and three times Jesus asks him: “Peter, do you love Me?” (cf. Jn. 21). The first time, to counter Peter’s boast that, “even if all these others abandon You, I never will,” Jesus says, “Peter, do you love Me more than these others do?” Jesus adds the words “more than these others.” When Peter answers, he does not dare to exalt himself above the others. The second time, Jesus omits the reference to the others and simply asks, “Do you love Me?” On both occasions Jesus employs a verb meaning “love Me to the point of being willing to die for Me,” and both times Peter replies affirming a lesser love, a weaker love. On the third occasion, Jesus drops down a level; employing the same verb that Peter uses instead of the verb he had used the first two times. It seems he is casting doubt even on Peter’s lesser love, his weaker love, and Peter, understandably, is deeply shaken by this. The Gospel says that he became emotional. The triple interrogation has pierced his heart.

But then Peter’s defense is admirable. He could so easily have said, “No, I do not love You. How can I possibly claim here in front of everyone that I love You, when everyone here knows I denied knowledge of Your name when You most needed me? No, I cannot say it. I will not say it. I must be truthful. I do not love You.” But Peter doesn’t say this. Rather, he says: “I have failed You, but I do love You. I cannot deny that I failed You, but also, I cannot deny that I love You, and neither can You deny that I love You, because all things are known to You, and You know that in the deepest core of my being there is something that says, You alone, You alone, Lord, have words of eternal life, You alone are enough, You alone are the One we’ve been waiting for.”

All of this is contained in the words, “Lord, You know all things; you know that I love You.” Jesus responded, “Feed My lambs … Take care of My sheep … Feed My sheep.” This is followed by another statement that is worthy of reflection: “When you were young, you fastened your own belt and went wherever you wished. But when you get old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten your belt and take you where you don't want to go” (Jn 21:18). It sounds like a threat or at least a warning, but, in fact, the Lord is promising Peter that one day his love will be so strong that he will not run away, he will overcome all fear, he will die of love.

    The entire episode is a masterpiece of loving education and conversion from which much may be learned for our own personal relationships with the Lord and with others.

Fr Colm PowersFr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother. Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the FFA blog "Random Reflections".