Catholic, forgiveness, Fr Mike Schmitz, Holy Thursday, Holy Week, Palm Sunday, Peter the Rock, The Chosen, Triduum
I’m pretty leaky lately. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because in this third year of reading the bible (Bible In A Year podcast) and listening to some stellar homilies (Fr. Mike Schmitz), podcasts (Poco a Poco) and shows (The Chosen) my understanding has deepened a bit and granted me an awareness that sneaks up on me when I least expect it. Like last weekend – Palm Sunday, to be exact. On Palm Sunday the readings are not only extra, they are rearranged. And with good reason – things are about to get dicey. We are entering Holy Week, a week that is both tumultuous and graceful.
We started with the Gospel reading where Jesus enters Jerusalem on the donkey. I closed my eyes and pictured him riding through the Sheep Gate with all the other lambs to be sacrificed for the Passover. That gives me chills. The simplicity. The dual meaning. The fulfillment. My eyes started watering and I chastised myself for not wearing waterproof mascara. How had I not anticipated this, as moved as I am each and every time I listen to my favorite podcasted homily? (Check out Fr. Mike Schmitz’s series from 2022, Last Words. Listen to the Palm Sunday one titled Last Words: Tetelestai. It will blow your mind.)
Minutes later, I was listening to the Passion narrative with my eyes closed. It’s a long narrative, and if you’re hearing it at a Catholic church, you’re gonna be standing there for a while. Jesus institutes the Eucharist. He gives his disciples the cup that is not yet his to drink. He tells them the time is near. One of them will betray him. Peter speaks up: Not me, Lord. I would never! Jesus foretells not one, but three betrayals that Peter himself – the chosen rock – will commit that very night.
More tears slip beneath my lashes. What is wrong with me? This is not a part of the narrative that has ever stirred me before. I picture these chosen men in my mind. The men who would lead the Church. The men who, though chosen, were still just men. A thought niggles at the corner of my mind. It isn’t the betrayal that makes this story powerful. The story isn’t focused on the betrayal at all. Is it?
I pondered this thought the whole way home. I continued to chew on it as I did laundry and prepared dinner. No, it isn’t the betrayal that makes this story a one-in-a-million life changing saga. It’s the forgiveness.
If Jesus had reacted to his friend as one of us would react, the story would have gone more like this: he would first say something like, “I told you this would happen. But you just wouldn’t listen, would you? Well, thanks for nothing. I made you my rock and under the least pressure you crumbled like dust. I can’t believe I picked you, dude. For real. I don’t even want to look at you right now. Just go.” As painful as that would have been for Peter, it certainly wouldn’t have been remarkable.
But he didn’t do that at all. Instead, he turned each betrayal into a new promise. “Do you love me? Feed my lambs… Do you love me? Tend my sheep… Do you love me? Feed my lambs.” He didn’t expect Peter to be perfect – perfection was an impossibility for Peter, as it is for us. He was asking Peter to be faithful. I often have wondered if he repeated the “Feed my lambs” line because he knows our propensity to commit the same sins. For those same sins, God, who is true faithfulness, will always have the same answer. The forgiveness is what makes this story extraordinary. The forgiveness sets the story apart from all others, and it weaves itself into our own stories at the same time.
The forgiveness is what made me cry.
Did Peter deserve the forgiveness? Probably not. But Jesus gave it and changed the story. Do I deserve the forgiveness? Definitely not. But Jesus gives it and changes my story, too.
While I am usually semi-competent at putting my thoughts into precise and communicative words, I am falling short on this one. Perhaps I will be unpacking these thoughts more in the days and months to come. I’ll wrap this up for now, though, and wish you all a beautiful experience of the Triduum.
May the peace and mercy of Christ be yours throughout this week and the Easter season.