The scriptures that are presented for our prayerful reflection on Passion Sunday are a veritable treasure of our faith. They are so extensive and dense that one feels like a little kid (or indeed a big kid) in a chocolate factory, writes Bishop Eugene Hurley, Bishop of Darwin.
So much of all that is beautiful and wonderful, but only a limited time to enjoy it all. It inevitably means that we need to choose some aspects of the readings and sadly we need to leave a bit behind for another day.
It seems to me that St Paul in his letter to the Philippians highlights the amazing and awesome fact that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, has taken to himself a human nature just like us (without the drawback of original sin, of course) and has come to live with us and share our lives with all the ups and downs that we know so well.
I’m not sure whether we can speak of the "humility" of God, but certainly St Paul highlights the humility of Jesus in "becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross".
There is so much humility going on in the Passion that it is hard to keep up. Peter, whom we all love for his wonderful and powerful humanity, experienced a fairly long and painful journey of humility.
When Jesus suggested that all his friends would desert him and leave him alone to suffer, it was too much for the big fisherman who loved Jesus so much.
One can imagine him fairly bellowing: “Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith,” as he thumped the table. One can imagine him looking challengingly at all his friends as well, daring them to pledge their undying loyalty.
I think we could say that Peter really loved Jesus with all his heart and that will prove to be so important.
It started to unravel pretty quickly for Peter and his companions. They accompanied Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane and as he went to pray they all promptly dropped off to sleep. It seems that Jesus was deeply disappointed and even hurt by the fact that they could not even stay awake with him, and said as much to our hero Peter, “So you had not the strength to keep awake with me one hour”?
It really was a very inauspicious start to his journey of fidelity and it only got worse from there. When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter, along with the rest, bolted for safety, leaving Jesus on his own.... the very thing our hero had declared he would never do. That is a serious dose of humility. Could it get any worse ?
Peter, who must have been feeling so bad, is hanging around in the courtyard waiting to see what was going to happen to his friend, when he is confronted by several people who recognised him as one of the group who got around with this Jesus Christ who is now on trial.
Now comes the unthinkable. Peter, our hero, the one who declared that when everybody else was crumbling he would be like a rock [and we might come back to that] begins denying that he ever knew Jesus. Finally, he started calling down curses on himself and swearing, “I do not know the man.”
It’s hard to see how our hero can make it back from here. Peter has deserted his friend Jesus in his hour of need, fled when he was arrested and now denies, with an oath, that he ever knew him.
It seems unreal to expect that the relationship Peter had with Jesus could ever be restored after that performance. Somehow that’s just the point. It IS totally unreal to expect that after that treatment of their friendship that Peter could ever dream of recovering their trusting relationship.
We have the benefit of history in St John’s gospel which reveals to us that there is a further chapter to this extraordinary journey of humility for Peter.
After a night’s fishing, that netted them nothing, as they were approaching the shore at first light, they noticed a figure on the shore. This person, in the half light, having enquired about their catch, suggested they drop the net the other side of the boat and this met with immediate success.
As they neared the shore John announced, “It is the Lord.”
At this ,the big, wonderful and impulsive Peter, forgetting all the dreadful blunders he has made, was so excited and full of joy that he jumped into the water half naked and headed for the shore to be reconciled with his friend, leaving the rest to drag the net ashore.
What a meeting that must have been. What did Peter say? What did Jesus say? I think we know our hero well enough to know that he wasn’t going to let his failures and his betrayal rob him of the life-giving friendship with Jesus whom he loved even more now.
I think we could reasonably envisage this big powerful fisherman, dripping wet, running to Jesus, falling into his arms sobbing, with joy, embarrassment and a deep sense of humility. I sense that no words were spoken... they didn’t need to be spoken just then, the moment took care of that.
That wasn’t the end of this saga. With breakfast over the moment of truth had come for Peter. He must have thought to himself, “Well this is it...I’m going to face my weakness and my failures and now the future of my relationship with Jesus is entirely up to him... there is nothing more I can do.”
Peter with the wonderful big heart, and the weak will, was about to be asked the simplest and yet the most profound question.... not once but three times.
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” With great humility but with steely resolve, Peter simply replied, “Lord you know everything; you know I love you.”
What a beautiful moment! It was absolutely true.... Jesus knew that Peter loved him, and Peter knew that Jesus understood the truth of that.
Jesus then entrusted Peter with the responsibility of being the shepherd of His church “Feed my sheep.” He was to be The Rock he had always dreamed he might be.
It is the triumph of true love over all the irregularities and weaknesses that are so much part of who we are as humans.
It seems to me that we must never allow our weaknesses and our infidelities to separate us from the generous forgiveness of Jesus who looks at us lovingly and asks us to answer, in the quietness of our hearts, that profound question, “Do you love me?”
We can do no better than emulate Peter. Let us reply with great humility and with every fibre of our being, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”