Though he seldom traveled farther than his daily
walk to and from his little barber shop, my father considered himself something
of a connoisseur. This became abundantly clear when he and my mother would come
to visit me. Scene one. I am in
I begin here because ultimately, I suspect, both Peter and Paul whom we feast today came to understand themselves as forgiven - forgiven failures who were absolutely beloved disciples of their resurrected and wounded Master. And so these two pillars of the Church whom we celebrate I’m sure would not mind if we noted that neither of them had anything to be proud of - Peter who even as his best friend is being slapped and sentenced insists to a serving girl in the glow of a charcoal fire that he doesn’t even know who the man is; and self-righteous Paul who drags the first followers of Jesus from their homes to prison and persecution. Both Peter and Paul find themselves discovered by the Mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who identifies himself as the betrayed one, the persecuted one.
Today is the festival of the betrayer and the persecutor transformed. Both are converted, turned around by mercy. Peter who three times denied his Friend in the light of a charcoal fire is given the sweet opportunity by Jesus three times to proclaim his love early one morning by another charcoal fire. There on the beach he gets to say, “Lord, I do love you; you know well that I love you.” And Paul temporarily blinded by the glaring light of Christ’s self revelation - “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”- speaking from his deep down experience will tell us that, “Nothing whatever can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Their encounters, their evolving relationships with Jesus the wounded Life-giver, empower them both to be themselves wounded and forgiven life-givers. They have been empowered by mercy and compassion and forgiveness. We celebrate two men desperately in need of transformation, a transformation made real because of their encounter with their most merciful, betrayed and persecuted Lord.
Paul will say it best: “God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.” Clearly God’s preference for the weak is all about availability. Simply put- it is that only what is fragile, weak (and) precarious according to the order of this world that can allow itself to be “broken so as to be created anew.” That which is vulnerable is transformable; what is sinful can be mercied. But what is stiff, stubborn and intractable is stagnant and stuck. Allowing myself to be forgiven changes everything.
Perhaps this is our most important work as monks - to allow things to fall apart and notice that as things fall apart we are more available for mercy. Perhaps part of our work is to normalize this fragmentation for one another - normalize the falling apart as the means to a most glorious end, life in Christ Jesus. This is not a careless, presumptive laziness, (“I’m broken, you’re broken; Christ will rescue us. No problem!”) Neither is it the blind leading the blind into a catastrophic fall. It is rather the weak leading the weak into a willing acknowledgement and celebration of the inevitability of our fragmentation and weakness as good news that will lead to our transformation in Christ. And so I imagine us encouraging each other as once the about-to-be martyrs did, watching and waiting their turn with the beasts there in the dreary dugouts of the Coliseum. “Go forward; don’t be afraid. This falling, this dying will not be your dissolution but your means, a royal, jubilant gateway to new and more abundant life in Christ, into Christ. Go ahead, let yourself be eaten up! It’s worth it. He’s worth it. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus’ question to Peter, to each of us in this morning’s Gospel, situates us with Peter poised to listen to our Master as he whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us in the depths of our hearts, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now?” What will you answer? Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately beloved by God in Christ, then with Peter we can say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and with Paul, “All I want is to know (you) Christ Jesus and the power flowing from (your) resurrection. Now nothing else matters.”
Once again this morning we set ourselves up for a “collision of desires”- our desperation, our desperate, pitiable need for forgiveness on a collision course with Jesus’ desperate desire to forgive and heal and console us. And of all things it is somehow our sins, our failures that give us kinship with our wounded Lord. For the “failure” of Jesus, the failure of the Cross is our only hope. When we eat this Bread and drink this cup we proclaim with every fiber of our being that Mercy has found us, that we too like our saints have been empowered by his forgiveness because love is more powerful than death.
Saints Peter and Paul, 15th century, Fondamenta Cavour, Murano, Italy. And a homily by one of our monks.