Thursday, March 01, 2007

Note from a Lenten reading

To journey in the Lenten season, I am reading a book about (and thus transparently titled) the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. There was a passage reflecting on the discourse at the Last Supper, about falling to sin and ... rising again. It focuses on Jesus' warning to the two main protagonists in its corresponding passage in the Bible, the apostles Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot.

On the coming failure of the Twelve (pg 65)

After Jesus warned the Twelve that "the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed" when the shepherd is struck, Simon Peter, recalling times when Jesus had rebuked them for being 'of little faith', asserted that their loyalty remained with the Master. He was indignant that one of the Twelve should be declared disloyal; and furthermore, to be told that not one but all of them 'that very night' would desert Him. "Peter answering said to Him, Although all shall be scandalized in Thee, I will never be scandalized."

At first Jesus seemed to ignore Simon Peter's impetuosity. He loved Peter, therefore He could let his contradiction pass; in spite of all, He knew that Peter loved Him, and therefore in love He could speak to him. He would show Peter how much he was loved and cared for than Peter himself suspected. ... Until He is compelled, Jesus will not look at Peter the deserter, He will only consider the future leader of the flock:
'And the Lord said, Simon Simon,
Behold Satan hath desired to have you
That he may sift you as wheat
But I have prayed for thee
That they faith fail not
And thou being once converted
Confirm thy brethren.'

Strengthened by the Eucharistic meal and touched by the Master's humbling gesture of the washing of his feet, Peter made an offer of his life, very likely thinking this is another of such test, a trial of his courage, Jesus gave his response.

How easy is it to be brave when no danger is near us! How easy to be faithful when there is no temptation to desert, but only sweet attraction to draw us! But not in such a way may those be trained who are destined to guide others. For that end Peter must be allowed his lesson, which only a heavy fall would teach him. In the answer which Jesus gave him, there is irony, there is resignation, there is even hope, there is no less affection; indeed love is the more expressed by the repetition of the name.
'Amen Amen I say to thee Peter,
Today even in this night
Before the cock crow twice
Thou shalt deny me thrice'
'Peter!' Before He had said: 'Simon, Simon', now it was 'Peter!' Then his ordinary name, now when his fall is prophesied, he is called 'The Rock!' Such is the affectionate irony of Jesus Christ.

This section deals with the betrayal of Peter, and contrasting it to Judas', and the great irony given Peter's repeated declaration of loyalty.

Judas that night would betray Him but once, Peter would deny Him thrice. Judas had made no special protest of allegiance, Peter had declared his loyalty again and again. Judas had been entrusted merely with the common purse; to Peter had been given the keys, the care of the Universal Church! And yet, after their fall, how differently they were treated! Before a human court of justice Peter might well have received a greater condemnation; in the eyes of Jesus his offence was condoned. For those eyes see beneath the surface, they distinguish sin from sin, malice from mere weakness, heart from heart, where human justice is blinded. As they looked at these two, and beheld even their repentance, still they were not deceived. The one repented out of despair, the other, with all is weakness, had never ceased to love; and Jesus knew the value of them both.

I always find in St Peter, as a representative of the apostles, a figure of inspiration: for "[these men] loved Him, at least they wished to love Him,... and though that love would fail on trial, yet would it not die. It would rise again, it would rise again purified, taught by humiliation to know its own weakness, and then, when later the supreme trial came, it would not fail, they would not deny Him.... He would still be patient with them, as He had always been before; smoking flax He would not extinguish, it would yet burst into flame. He had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong; therefore, because they were weak, until they learnt their weakness and where their true strength lay, it became their Master and Lord to bear with them, at whatever cost to Himself."

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