Cleansing Fire

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Holy Week Part VIII: Forgiving Peter

April 1st, 2018, Promulgated by Diane Harris

When did Jesus forgive Peter?

Think about how Peter must have felt on Saturday morning, when he heard the cock crow! Christ lay dead in the tomb, tortured and crucified, and Peter (of all people) had denied Him three times, after pledging never to do so. In Luke 22:33 Peter had said “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Easter Sunday was the third day in a row that Peter heard the cockcrow. He could expect that every day for the rest of his life the first sound of morning, the cockcrow, would bring about his own mourning, sorrow and regret. That was not much of a life to which to look forward. What a mess Peter had made of things!

Cockcrow

There have been some experiments with the timing of the cockcrow, including keeping the birds on a different clock and under various lighting conditions. Their prime driver does seem to be internal timing. While it varies by latitude, a rule of thumb away from the poles seems to be that the cock crows up to two hours before sunrise (i.e. almost in the night, in the dark before various stages of the dawn.)

In praying over Scripture using Lectio Divina, or just a simple “being” in the passage, one begins to think of Peter awakened in his sorrow and regret at the cockcrow on Sunday, perhaps around the same time at which Jesus was resurrecting. And perhaps Jesus even, knowing all things including Peter’s pain, would have compassionately responded to Peter’s need. It is perhaps a bit fanciful, but not outrageous. Peter’s need was not to be comforted; it was to be forgiven, and only Christ could do that for Peter! A Divine Mercy!

Forgiveness

Some preachers present the words of John 21 (Christ’s encounter with Peter on the shores of Galilee) as the time of Peter’s forgiveness but, forgive me for saying so, I don’t think that is what happened in that dawn on the seashore. Rather, I think that one of the first things Christ did at His Resurrection was to tend to Peter’s need for forgiveness. And it seems that moment occurred after Peter visited the tomb (as he appears genuinely surprised at the empty tomb, not like he’d just seen the Lord a few minutes ago.)

Biblical Evidence?

While Matthew, Mark and John do not mention a meeting between Christ and Peter before Christ’s appearance to all the Apostles in the Upper Room, Luke does, and so too does Paul.

When Cleopas and another disciple returned in joy from Emmaus on the night of the Resurrection, they were told: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:34). This certainly sounds like an appearance to Simon Peter happened before the two appearances in the Upper Room with other Apostles present, and well before Christ’s appearance on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Tiberius).

This appearance, seemingly alone to Peter, is reinforced by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5: “[Christ] appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve.” (eleven, actually, but the Apostles were known as “The Twelve.”) Of course “Peter, Simon Peter, Simon and Cephas” are all the same person, our first pope. So the question must be “why” did Christ appear to Peter before His other appearances on the Day of the Resurrection?

I believe (though I am of course ready to change my belief if there is a different interpretation presented by Church Teaching and I am in error) that Christ first tended to forgiving Peter. If ever there were a moment of understanding the hunger to confess and be forgiven, this must be that moment.  It shows where confession, cleansing the soul, ought to be on our list of priorities! Just as Jesus cleansed the Apostles by washing their feet at the Last Supper, Jesus was to cleanse Peter, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of all the Apostles, and for the sake of the new Sacrament He would institute that very evening: Reconciliation. Of that appearance Sunday evening to “The Twelve,” John 20:21b-22 states: “… [Jesus] breathed on them, and said to them. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Why is Peter’s reconciliation not mentioned in the other Gospels, only that he saw the Lord before the others in Luke, and in Paul?  Possibly because what occurred at that time was to be, in effect, under the Seal of Confession?

What happened on the Seashore?

It therefore seems that what happened on the shore of Galilee soon after was, in a sense, a kind of ‘re-installation’ of Peter as the rock upon which Christ was founding the Church.  And that had to be a public event in front of all the Apostles who would be yielding to the leadership of Peter. There had to be no doubt who was in charge after Christ ascended to the Father! Even Peter himself might have needed to hear that he hadn’t lost the great gift the Lord had given him, being the ‘rock’ on which Christ’s Church was founded.

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