By Mary Marrocco | Catholic News Service
On Good Fridays, I can find myself shivering in the night with Simon Peter, warming my hands at the charcoal fire.
What happened with Peter that Friday? The fisher of men left everything to follow Jesus, recognized him as Christ and leaped into stormy waters to reach his teacher. But, at this definitive moment of their last Passover together, Peter swiftly turned his back on Jesus. Of the beloved, betrayed, mocked and tortured man he called Lord, Peter cried:
“I do not know him.”
I wonder to what depths Peter descended after all that. What was he thinking as Jesus’ broken body was laid gently, carefully — by others — in a new tomb? What emotions did Peter hear yelling in his ears as he remembered Jesus’ declaration that Peter was the rock on whose faith stood the church?
Long before this terrible night, Jesus prepared his disciples for it.
When he told them openly that he would be rejected by religious leaders, handed over and killed, Peter rebuked him (Mark 8:32). And for what? For showing them God’s way. Like us, Peter had trouble getting out of his own way and really hearing and following Jesus.
It’s shocking to hear Jesus eviscerate Peter, just as he eviscerated Satan in the desert: “Get behind me, Satan!” Satan is the enemy, the adversary. Is Jesus calling Peter Satan?
We hope it’s not Peter himself (or us) who’s the enemy, but rather Peter’s attitude behind his put-down of Jesus. It’s not when your child is on solid ground that you speak sharply to her, but when you see her in peril: “Don’t run into the street!”
But what danger does Jesus see in Peter’s response? Peter thinks his own religious understanding is better than God’s plan. “We know better than you,” Peter tells Jesus. “We know how the Savior should be. You’re not getting it right.”
This response isn’t just a rejection of Jesus; others rejected him without drawing a sharp cry from Jesus. The danger in Peter’s words is his denial of who Jesus is, even while proclaiming him the Christ.
Peter’s rebuke touches at the heart of the Gospel. His idea of the Savior isn’t God’s idea of the Savior, who was standing right in front of him. Peter treads near the ultimate lie, that God is not who he is.
Generally, Peter has a profound sense of who Jesus is. But this time, Peter’s head is cluttered with a profoundly wrong sense of the nature of Jesus. This puts Peter in danger of accepting a lie — the lie — as truth. Not for the last time: In the garden he will again make this mistake (John 18:11).
What about us? Can our religious ideas get in the way of our seeing the truth? Yes! But God has ways to help us turn toward him when we’re running in the opposite direction as fast as we can, while shouting at the top of our lungs that we’re following him. “Get behind me, Satan” is not the end of the story of Peter and Jesus, fortunately for Peter, and us.
Good Friday isn’t the end, either, even though Peter did deny the way and the truth, at the very moment Jesus was fulfilling them by way of the cross.
Perhaps, having been through those earlier rebukes, Peter was readier by Easter Sunday to accept the Savior who broke on the cross. Peter could finally see where the real power lay, even as “human thinking” brought so much blood and destruction. On the cross, God makes space for something else, right where the human law of violence is shown to be uncompromising.
This Lent, we experience anew the power that same violence and aggression have in our world. We need to open our eyes, difficult though it is. Violence has power in us. We might see ourselves as Abel, but we are Cain, too.
Wherever we are this Good Friday, and whoever we are in the church, right now people are suffering and dying. We all have to choose. When the cross appears, and we see on it a son dying in his mother’s arms in a bunker, which way do we take? Do we rebuke Christ, telling him to get off the cross and pick up the sword? Do we quickly call our neighbors “the enemy,” forgetting they’re our sisters and brothers?
At the heart of the Gospel is Jesus creating peace, in contradiction to the universally held human belief in the necessity of violence. Where do we stand?
The earliest proclamation of the church is this: “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34).
“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, we implore you to stop the hand of Cain, enlighten our conscience, let not our will be done, do not abandon us to our own doing.” — A prayer of Pope Francis, CNS translation, March 16, 2022
Mary Marrocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.