Judas and Peter

Today’s Gospel from John is of Jesus and his friends at the Last Supper.  In today’s segment, Jesus predicts both Judas’ betrayal of him and Peter’s denial of him.

As I read the passage, I was reminded of a reflection offered on Palm Sunday as part of the UST Lent Reflection Series by Robert Kennedy, Professor and Chair of UST’s Catholic Studies Department.  He observed that the “principal actors” in the story of Jesus’ passion “all act out of very human motives, or perhaps one ought to say human weaknesses. These weaknesses are envy, fear and distrust.”

Speaking of Judas and Peter, Professor Kennedy wrote

Judas certainly did not trust, did not have faith in, Jesus. Regardless of what he had witnessed, he doubted the faithfulness and power of God and took things into his own hands. And Peter, who had more reason than anyone to have faith, was overcome by fear and adamant in his distrust.

How characteristic these weaknesses are, not only of these men, but of all of us. How many of us would act differently if we had been in their places? Envy, fear and distrust are such common drivers of human failing. But the story of Jesus’ Passion and death is, among other things, the story of his humility, his courage and his ultimate confidence in the wisdom and power of God. The real remedy for these weaknesses and not a bad lesson for us.

You can read the entirety of Professor Kennedy’s reflection here.


Apostle to the Jews and Apostle to the Gentiles

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Sts. Paul. I’ve spoken about each of them in different contexts on many occasions. So for today, I’d like to share with you an excerpt from a reflection on this feast day written by my friend Bill Nolan, Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle church in Minneapolis.

This reflection appeared in the weekly newsletter Bill sends out reflecting on the Sunday Gospel. Here is what he said about Peter and Paul:

Peter and Paul. Apostle to the Jews and Apostle to the Gentiles. One denied knowing Christ, the other relentlessly persecuted followers of The Way. Each had a tendency to speak first and think second, causing them each some trouble. And while no conclusive statement can be made, there is considerable evidence that they didn’t like each other all that much. Yet there they are, standing watch over the political and spiritual center of Roman Catholicism, some might say all of Christianity. Together.

Each heard God’s call in their life. Each made mistakes in interpreting just how to follow that call. Each lead others, each alienated others. Each had an ego. Each defied labels of conservative or liberal in their own time and continue to defy them today. Each wanted some aspects of tradition protected and each wanted the spreading of the Gospel to progress, unburdened by those elements of tradition which no longer served the message of that Gospel. Each was willing to die for their faith. Each did.

The early Church needed both Peter and Paul in order to survive. It needed the tensions that each brought to the table. It needed their respective visions, warnings, and willingness to forge ahead against considerable odds. It needed their holiness as well as their frailty. It needed their humanity.

And how much more the Church of today needs all of these things. So as we celebrate this weekend the Solemnity of these two proud men, let us look for Peter and Paul in our midst. Let us look for the Peter and Paul in ourselves. And let us be grateful for what each continues to bring to the banquet.

Where do you find Peter or Paul in yourself?

Jesus and Peter

Today’s Gospel is one of my two favorite of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances: the scene in John 21 where Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of Galilee.

Jesus is sitting on the beach cooking some fish as the disciples return from their fishing. As he is feeding them breakfast, he asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter answers yes, the third time with some hurt in his voice.

There are two very important (albeit related) conclusions we can draw about Jesus in that colloquy, both of which have implications for both our relationship to God and our relationship to each other. First, that Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter easily. Second, Jesus accepts what Peter is capable of offering.

In a talk I gave at one of the sessions of a four-week program Bill Nolan and I gave last spring on Jesus’ post-Resurrection, I focused on this dialogue between Jesus and Peter, discussing those two conclusions and their implications for us.

I thought I’d share that podcast again this morning, since it might offer some fruitful reflection on today’s Gospel. You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:03. There is a break at about 5:45, where I paused the recorder while we read the Gospel passage aloud and asked participants to share a word or phrase that struck them.)

Feed My Sheep

Today’s Mass Gospel is the colloquy between Jesus and Peter on the beach that takes place in the 21st chapter of St. John’s Gospel. I talked about this encounter at length at a recent program on Jesus’ post-resuurection appearances. (You can find the podcast of that talk here.)

Each time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he charges him, “Feed my lamb…Feed my sheep.” As I told participants when I spoke about this recently, I think each word in that charge is important.

Feed. Andrew Murray, a 19th Century pastor and writer in South Africa, observed that “to feed is to give to others what will help them grow.” Just as Jesus’ instruction to Peter had nothing to do with physical food and everything to do with aiding in their growth toward God, each of us must ask ourselves how can we help others to grow? In Murray’s words, “How can we explain Jesus’ words so they might understand? How can we nurture in them a desire in them to turn to God?”

My. Feed my sheep says Jesus. For Peter, for church leaders, for all of us it is important to understand that we have been given a task, but it on behalf of God. There is an enormous difference between giving something to another for their ownership and possession and giving something to the care and trusteeship of another. We nurture others for the Lord, not for the fulfillment of our own wishes and desires. It is His sheep we feed.

Lamb or Sheep. The reference to sheep calls us back to Jesus’ reference to himself earlier in the Gospel as the good shepherd – the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. Peter is not simply called by Jesus to leadership, but to be ready to risk all that he knows and loves.

And something we all need to remember is that being part of community means serving and being served. We are all both sheep and shepherd. All in need of care of others and all capable of caring for other. We have a responsibility to feed each other with the food Jesus gives us….and to allow others to feed us. So our being shephards doesn’t mean we stand outside, apart and above others, but with them.

There is a lot packed into three little words.

Peter and Paul

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Although each of St. Peter and St. Paul have other days associated with them (e.g., Chair of St. Peter, Conversion of St. Paul), today we celebrate the two together.

Why? One was a disciple during the life of Jesus, the other was converted after his resurrection. One went from fisherman to disciple, the other went from persecutor of Christians to discipleship. And we know from Acts that they sometimes disagreed quite strenuously with each other.

But it may be that it is that last that makes it so appropriate that we celebrate the two together. They disagreed, but their disagreements did not tear them apart. And in that, they are a wonderful model for us.

Calling ourselves Christians does not mean we will always see eye to eye on everything. There will be disagreements, and some of those disagreements will be quite serious. But the invitation is to remain united in spite of our diversity, in spite of our disagreements.

That is not always easy. In fact, sometimes it is downright difficult. Yet Peter and Paul remind us that it is possible. That our commitment to Christ is stronger than our disagreements. Let us draw strength from their example.

You Are The Christ, But…

In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus asks the question of disciples He asks each of us: Who do you say that I am? I wonder how different our answer is from Peter’s answer.

I don’t mean Peter’s initial answer. As it is often the case with us, the words are easy to mouth: “You are the Christ,” says Peter. So far, so good.

But then, as Jesus talks to his disciples about what it means that he is the Christ – that he must be rejected and killed and rise – Peter starts to rebuke him. You don’t really mean that, right? Yes, Lord, you are the Christ, but not like that. Peter had his own idea of what it meant to be the Christ, and his notion had nothing to do with suffering and dying. Nothing to do with what Jesus meant by being the Christ.

And I think that is exactly what we so often do – substitute our own idea or image of Christ. It is easy for us to look at Jesus and say, “You are the Christ. Of course I believe that. No question about it.”

But we have a lot of Peter’s reaction when we hear things like “whoever wishes to save his life must lose it” or “as I have done for you, you should do also” or “sell all you have.” You are the Christ, we say, adding, but you didn’t really mean lose my life, right? You are the Christ, but you didn’t really mean wash everyone else’s feet, right? You are the Christ, but you didn’t really mean sell all I have, right?

Like Peter, we could all benefit from listening more closely to what Jesus tells us about what it means to affirm he is the Christ.

Love Intensely

Our first Mass reading all this week has been from the first Letter of St. Peter. In today’s reading, Peter instructs that “above all” we should “let [our] love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.” And so he instructs us, for example, to be hospitable to each other without complaining, to use our gifts for the service and benefit of each other.

Presumably all of us who are walking a spiritual path desire to sin less. And we certainly want to be cognizant of those sins we do commit.

However, I think there is soundness to Peter’s advice, that is, in the suggestion that our focus is better put on loving more than on sinning less. If we are so busy loving each other (and I confess I love the phrasing of letting our love for each other be “intense”), it seems to me the sinning less part will take care of itself.

As I’ve suggested before, we have a tendency to make things complicated. Complicated solutions appeal to us. But it really is quite simple – love. Love each other. Love each other intensely.

Saints Peter and Paul

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. At one level, celebrating the two saints together may seem strange; we know there was a certain amount of tension between the two of them at times. However, if one understands the tension between them as reflective of a necessary and dynamic tension that is an inherent part of the Church, a joint celebration of the two makes more sense.

In his book, What is the Point of Being Christian, about which I’ve written before, Timothy Radcliffe, OP, talks about the tension reflected in the Last Supper (specifically, the difference between the bread given just to the disciples and the blood “poured out for many”) between “the gathering into communion of these disciples, Jesus’ close and intimate friends, and the reaching out to all, for the fullness of the Kingdom.” He identifies this as the tension between Peter and Paul.

Peter had been called by Jesus to belong to a community that was in its origins Jewish. Jesus may have reached out to foreigners at times but the inner circle, the apostles, were all Jewish and sent, in the beginning, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This was an understanding of the community which, for many of the first disciples, it would have been unimaginable that one might question. But the Church had hardly been founded when Paul’s reaching out to the Gentiles seemed to subvert the core of its very identity.

Radcliffe speaks of a centrifugal and a centripetal force “whose equilibrium had to be maintained if the Church was to avoid becoming either just another Jewish sect on the one hand, or losing continuity wtih its founder on the other.” The two forces, he suggests, are represented by Peter and Paul, whose dying together in Rome may be viewed as symbolic of the Church’s ability to hang on to the dynamic tension.

Happy Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Lord, What About Him?

In today’s Gospel, the conclusion of St. John’s Gospel, as Peter is walking with Jesus, Peter turns and sees John following them. Peter asks, “Lord, what about him?” and Jesus answers, with what I imagine to have been a rebuking tone, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”

Although it is easy for us to chide Peter – he does, after all, seem to blow it time and time again during Jesus’ time on earth – he is not really all that different from us. We so often spend time worrying about the other guy. What is someone else getting? Even when we are getting what we want or need, we’re peering over, checking to see if someone else is getting more. Does he have a better place in line than I do? Is her piece of cake larger than mine?

We do it with spiritual things as well, possessing a kind of spiritual envy or jeolousy. Is someone else’s prayer better than my prayer? Are they further along the spiritual path than I am? Is their relationship with God closer than my relationship with God?

Jesus’ response to Peter is the response to all of us: That’s not your business. You follow me; that’s your business. It is not for you to worry about what the other person is getting from me. Look to our relationship.

Good advice.

Peter and the Power of the Holy Spirit

As is always the case in the days following Easter, the first reading for our Masses this week have been taken from the Acts of the Apostles. What is so powerful for me in hearing those readings proclaimed is the picture of Peter we see in Acts, contrasted with the Peter we remember from the Gospels.

Poor Peter made so many mistakes during the life of Christ. He tries to discourage Jesus from turning toward Jerusalem and his destiny, he loses faith when Jesus commands him to walk to him on the water, and (despite his protestations that he would go to the death with Jesus) he denies knowing Jesus three times following Jesus’ arrest. No matter how much time he spends with Jesus, he never quite seems to get it.

The post-Resurrection Peter we have been hearing about these past days is a very different person. One day we hear that Peter speaks and people are “cut to the heart”; thousands who hear him are baptized. The next day he cures a man crippled from birth. In subsequent readings, filled with the Holy Spirit, he continues to preach to great effect.

And there is the key: “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Following the ascension of Christ, we are told that when the disciples were all in one place together, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit.” Not by his own power does Peter do these things, but by the power of God working through him.

What we need to remember is that the same Holy Spirit that filled the disciples also fills us, enabling us to do so much more than we could do on our own. When we actually realize that, the only response is that given in Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus tgo all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”