As we celebrate these two saints, perhaps they smile a bit sheepishly, their heads lowered, embarrassed by all the hoopla and 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. Certainly both of them would 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 know 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, absolute gift. We do not feel humiliated, but rescued, and restored, transformed.*
*Last words from Dives in Misericordia, John Paul II, Ch. 4.