As we celebrate the saints today, they probably smile a bit sheepishly; their heads lowered. We imagine them embarrassed by all the hoopla, all the while pointing quietly to the wounded Jesus. “It’s not about us,” they say. “It’s all about what his tender mercy could accomplish in us.” Peter and Paul ultimately know themselves as forgiven failures, mercied and transformed by Christ in his most compassionate attentiveness. Both of them would probably admit to us that they could be a bit overconfident, too self-assured; they come to us this morning with nothing to boast about.
Peter says he’s ready to die with Jesus; then betrays him in a heartbeat to save his skin. “Wait a minute; you’re one of that Galilean’s followers,” says the maid in the high priest’s courtyard. “I’d know that accent anywhere.” “Get out of here,” Peter mutters. “I don’t who you’re talking about,” Meanwhile Jesus is right next door being slapped and humiliated.
Paul so sure of himself, so sure of the truth, so well-schooled in the Law, it’s the armored tank he’s been using to mow down followers of Jesus the blasphemer. As Peter crashes into self-knowledge making Jesus’ prediction of betrayal come true; Paul is knocked off his horse, insisting that he does not even know who Jesus is. Jesus assures him, “I am Jesus the one you’ve been persecuting.”
Jesus did not give up on Peter or Paul and he won’t give up on us. He is a relentless rescuer, the God who saves us, even chases after us. He rescues us from all our distress over and over again, because he loves us. And even when we are dead in our stubborn sinfulness; he brings us to life, not because of our virtuous deeds but because of his tender mercy. All is grace, not merit but graciousness, a love that reaches down to every human misery. We do not feel humiliated, but restored, transformed.*
And so with Peter we listen as Jesus whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you?” Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately loved by Christ. Then we can say with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. To whom else shall we go?” And with Paul, “All I want is to know you, Lord Jesus and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is rubbish.” You are all that I desire. You are my love, my fortress, my stronghold, my rescuer, my rock, the God who shows me love.
The tender love and relentless rescue of Jesus make our foolish failures almost worth it. With Peter and Paul we are meant to be icons of this rescue, our very selves, revelations of what Christ’s ongoing merciful rescue can accomplish if we give him the least bit if access to our broken hearts.
* See Dives in Miserdicordia, Saint John Paul II. Photograph by Brother Brian.