10 April 2020

Peter and the Ways of the World

I appreciated this reflection, Peter the Spy: Imitatio Christi Versus Imitatio Mundi”, on Peter’s mistakes in the lead-up to Jesus’ crucifixion — he was not a coward, but seeking the ways of the world, until he learned the way of Jesus’ kingdom.

How does Jesus react to Peter following the crowd? In each Gospel, Jesus rejects the sword. In Matthew, Christ says Put your sword back, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52). In Mark, Christ rebukes everyone for carrying weapons and at this the Apostles left him and fled” (14:50). In Luke, Jesus shouts Stop no more of this!” (22:51). In John, Jesus says, Put your sword in your scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (18:11). The message is clear: Christ is not to be defended with the sword. Faced with violence, Jesus forbids violence. He could lead an army of angels, but he rejects this too. Jesus could imitate the crowd’s violence and overwhelm it with infinite force. But instead of swords and armies, Jesus heals his enemy. Peter, having courageously taken up the option of violence, is told to put the sword down and take up the way of peace. If the crowd brings violence, we must not imitate it but truly reverse it by offering back to the crowd the healing of Christ.

Imagine Peter standing there, abashed at having once again misunderstood the Christ. Peter, having heard Jesus preach, fails to live out that preaching. Christ, in rejecting the sword, has rejected the way of the world. It is the logic of the world that meets weapon with weapon; it is the absurdity of the Cross that meets weapons with love. But Peter still does not get that to turn the other cheek is not pleasant aspiration but a command. After the garden, he puts down the sword to take up other methods of the world: intrigue, deception, and obfuscation. No longer the wannabe solider, Peter is now a wannabe spy.

What is he doing in the courtyard? He is doing opposition-research: trying to figure out how to spring Jesus in order to get the revolt going and make Jesus the great king. During Holy Week we speak of Spy Wednesday” because of Judas’s treachery, but Peter is a spy too. When he takes up the sword, he neglects Jesus’s teachings about peace. He thinks he is the great follower of Jesus in this moment. In the courtyard, he still thinks this. If he cannot exalt Jesus by violence, he will do so by intrigue and even treachery. He is lying but he does not think he is denying Christ, since his disavowals are in service of Christ.

It is the crowing of the rooster that convicts Peter. The rooster who crows for the rising sun foreshadows the rising to the Son. God’s victories operate according to a heavenly logic. We should operate according to that logic too. Hearing the rooster, Peter understands Jesus’s prophesy. Luke writes that the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Just as Jesus rebuked him for the sword, Jesus’s glance now rebukes his intriguing. But note the form of rebuke, a look. Jesus, who could call an army of angels, instead looks at us with love.

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