What about him? Saturday, 7th Week of Easter – Acts 28:16-20,30/ John 21:20-25
The Gospel of John and the Easter season draws to a close (yes tomorrow is Pentecost) on a very human note and one that brings us all consolation. Here is Peter, here is the one whom Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom. This is our first Pope and he has flaws till the bitter end! The spiritual life, as I have said many times, is not a moment but a journey and while the Gospel draws to an end, the learning for Peter has not.
Jesus has asked Peter three times if he loves him. Peter is rattled by the repetition of his question and yet Jesus did so not with the intention of publicly reprimanding him but rather publicly restoring his place among the apostles; a place and post that was brought into question by Peter’s triple denial of Christ at this trial.
Our Lord then went on to tell Peter the manner of his death. We know from St Jerome that Peter was crucified under Nero and at his request was crucified upside down as he felt he was not worthy of dying in like manner as his master did. After this Jesus said to Peter, “follow me;” words that were used at the start of this Gospel when calling the apostles. Now Peter is reminded of his calling and his promise to love Jesus even in death.
St John captures the next few verses very beautifully and if one did not know better it even betrays a one up-manship between Peter the Pope and John the beloved disciple. John records that immediately on being told of how he would die, Peter looks around the room for John. If he was to die for the Lord then what about John the beloved? Should he also not suffer for Jesus?
“What about him?” seems to be Peter’s immediate reaction. That is the reaction of all of us when we are challenged by the weight of the cross. ‘If we are shouldering your cross Lord, if you chose us to take the place of Simon of Cyrene then what about my brother or sister?’ ‘Will they too be given some burden? Will it be only me that has to die for you?’
Jesus is emphatic, “What about them?” Why should my decision for anyone be your concern?’ If you love me Peter, as you did admit it thrice, why be bothered about what I do for others or what I demand from you? What is that to you?’
Now for the second time in a matter of two verses, Jesus tells Peter, “Follow me.” Following Jesus is not looking at the other followers of Jesus. Following Jesus is to be single minded to his calling. So often we want to the Lord to level the playing field but following Christ is not a game but a goal. The path to that goal is not the same. While Peter witnessed to the Lord by his martyrdom, John would witness to Christ in exile on the island at Patmos. While Peter would be known as the first Pope, John would be known as the beloved. The call to be a disciple is not painted in uniformity but lived and experienced in diversity.