The Daily Bread, 25th April 2020: No heroes but One!
Readings: 1 Peter 5:5-14; Psalm 88(89):2-3,6-7,16-17; Mark 16:15-20
The opening lines from the first reading are taken from the first Letter of St. Peter. They are quite beautiful and they clearly imply that Peter himself experienced what he is saying:
“All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. … the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you.”
Taking up the virtue of humility, Peter had to learn it the hard way, through bitter experience. And it was a very hard virtue for him to learn. Peter was always the first to say something, the first to ask a question. He was full of bravado and braggadocio. Both feet first, if not in his mouth. A bull in a china shop. Peter was arrogant and full of himself, the “bee’s knees.” He lacked a realistic sense of himself and of his abilities and goals. Jesus was patient with him, super-patient! Jesus knew that experience would teach him. “Experience teacheth fools”: I suppose the future saint Peter was first a bit of a fool. But Jesus knew that underneath it all there was a jewel, and he was ready to wait for the mud it was buried in to be washed away with humiliation and tears. So many times, Jesus had to put Peter down, hold him back and resist his arrogant proposals. Once Peter had hit the ground hard after his fall, it was then that Jesus knew he could work with him, show him his power. Peter would have resisted Jesus caring for him or consoling him before his denials of Jesus, but it was when he was down that Jesus could show his power.
Peter was forced to bow down before the power of God by dint of his own fickle heart. When Jesus saw him from the Sanhedrin as the cock crew, Jesus looked at him. That look saved Peter from despair. It was a look which gave strength to Peter. It said, “Get up! Don’t drown in your tears or let them fall to the ground and create a muddy mess for you to fall into!” He had to get up and do as Jesus had told him at the Last Supper: go and strengthen his brothers.
Then the text above speaks of “unloading all your worries onto [Jesus] since he is looking after you.” When Jesus appeared to Peter alone after the resurrection, that was when Peter unloaded, unburdened all his guilt and folly and inner mess and wretchedness onto Jesus. He poured it all out as he had poured out all his tears on hearing the cock crow. Peter, before this moment, would never have allowed himself to believe that he was someone who needed looking after! For him to say in his letter that Jesus is looking after us is a powerful sign of the major shift of centre that Peter’s humiliation and new-found humility had wrought in him. Yet, on so many occasions during the public ministry, Jesus did precisely that: he looked after Peter by helping him catch fish when he caught none, by making him the first of the apostles, by saving him from sinking in the sea, by saving him from the sword in Gethsemane by telling him to put it away. Above all, he saved Peter from desperation after the denials.
Then the words, “he will confirm, strengthen and support you.” How well Peter had experienced this, firstly after the denials and the abundant forgiveness of Jesus, but then by the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Consoler in Person.
Peter had wanted to be a hero, but he was a broken and sinful man. So long as Peter insisted on being a hero in his own eyes, Jesus could do nothing for him because Jesus simply didn’t know any hero called Peter! Jesus wanted to love and redeem the real Peter, the broken and sinful Peter, not the self-invented and heroic Peter who was only a figment of Peter’s own imagination.
Jesus also wants to love and be friends with the real self in each of us. He doesn’t know any imaginary, puffed-up, self-proclaimed perfect self we might like to be. Jesus deals in what is real. He is himself the real deal and he will deal only with the real in us. He deals with the humble truth of who we are, the one burdened with worries that he wants to come to him and to unload. He wants the one who is suffering and bowed down with life, to raise him up on the appointed day and in the appointed way.
If we present Jesus with a proud, pretend self and expect him to play along, he won’t: he can’t! Because there is no pretend Jesus, only the real one. He wants entry into the real reality of our lives, so that he can really love the real me, really redeem and raise up the real me.
There is only one hero: “The Lord is at my side, a Mighty Hero” (Jeremiah 20:11). Our heroism is to let him conquer us!