Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

Tend the flock of God in your midst,
overseeing not by constraint but willingly,
as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.

Today we celebrate the authority Jesus gave to Saint Peter, the leader and spokesman of his disciples. Peter’s “chair” is similar to the “chair” that is erected at many universities, a sign of permanence, authority and great dignity.

Peter’s rank among the disciples reminds us that Jesus was not just one of the fellows. He wasn’t exactly a friend among friends, although he says in the Gospel of Saint John, “I call you friends.” In the synoptic gospels we find an aura of authority around him. He walks ahead of the group, not with them. They approach him first and then ask questions. This authority is no surprise to the Evangelists though it may surprise the American reader; they knew rabbis did not chum around with their disciples.

Peter was selected to mediate between Jesus and the disciples, and to speak for them. For that reason, his denial of Jesus on the night before he died was all the more painful for everyone. The breach had to be closed afterward, when the Risen Lord asked three times, “Do you love me?” Peter, humiliated by the relentless questioning finally wept, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
The first pope’s denial of the Lord and subsequent reconciliation must remind us of our own sin. As odd as it may sound, there are people who expect the Christian churches and their members to be without sin. They should evince no trace of racism, lust, greed or dishonesty. They should neither flaunt their virtue nor hide their shortcomings. They should have no shortcomings to hide!

Our patent infidelity provides an excuse for those who left the church and an alibi for the invited who decline. But they also create an opening to celebrate God’s mercy. “If God can forgive me, he can forgive anyone.” The astonishing, appalling dimensions of our sins – their sheer enormity – reveal God’s tender mercy brilliantly.

We’re like children on the beach, furiously digging holes that might swallow us alive. The tide comes in; the tide washes out; the holes of sin have disappeared, as if they never were. Such is God’s mercy.

Jesus, for his own inscrutable reasons, prefers to work with sinners. He chooses the weak of the earth to reveal his strength; the foolish, to reveal his wisdom; and the sinful, to display his -- necessarily -- infinite mercy. He chose Peter, you and me. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.