Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"It is the Lord!"

Painting by Bertrand Bahuet
Peter and the Miraculous Catch of Fish, fresco (detail)

John is the first to recognize that the Risen Christ is there, on the shore, cooking breakfast for them. Other painters dwell on the drama of Peter's immediate jump into the water, but something even more dramatic is happening in this amazing moment.

The more dramatic event, that the painter of this mural, Bertrand Bahuet seems to grasp, is that John didn't jump into the water.

It is astonishing when you think about it. Even after Peter jumped in, John stayed in the boat. What amazing restraint. And then, remembering these events, perhaps decades later, he doesn't explain why Peter jumped and why he didn't.

Painting by Bertrand Bahuet
Peter and the Miraculous Catch of Fish, fresco (detail)

Peter and John. What different paths these two men took to arrive on that boat that morning! Peter had denied Jesus three times -- not only that, but he did it after he'd been warned that he would do it! Then, when his Lord, whom he had already recognized as the Son of the living God, was killed, Peter hid. Meanwhile, John was the only one of the twelve who stayed with Jesus throughout his passion, remaining at the foot of the cross through Jesus' agony and death.

Can we imagine ourselves in John's place? Might not some of us grow a little superior, a little entitled? Might not some of us think, 'Heck, who stuck with him through it all? Don't I deserve to be the first to embrace him now? Haven't I established that I ought to be first among the disciples? I mean, Jesus even entrusted his Mother to my care!'

But not John. He remembered that Jesus said that Peter was the rock on which he would build his Church, and so John deferred to Peter. John recognized Jesus first, but he acknowledged Peter as leader and let him go ahead of him. Perhaps he also understood that Peter's need was greater than his own -- precisely because he knew that Peter had denied Jesus. He knew that Peter carried this terrible wound. Out of charity, he sent Peter to the Lord, knowing that only Christ could heal him.
This episode echoes an earlier one -- when Peter and John ran to Jesus' tomb after they learned that it was empty. John, being younger, arrived first, but he did not enter first.

How he must have loved Peter! I have thought so many times about this restraint he showed and his reverence before Jesus' choice of Peter. Would I have been capable of waiting and allowing anyone to enter first? Would I have been able to keep dry when my beloved Jesus was only a few strokes away? John would have had the best of excuses if he had gone first: impetuous youth, the confusion and emotion of the moment, his sense of special brotherhood with Christ after Jesus had entrusted his Mother to his care. But instead, John waited.


clairity said...

What a beautiful reflection. It's interesting how each follows Christ in his own way, Peter all impetuous and flawed (at least at first), John with this serenity and deference. The Gospels are so human when we look closely.

bertrand bahuet said...

Thank you for using my paintings with intelligence and kindness, I'd like to meet people interested in this type of exchange this summer in USA, write me.
Bertrand Bahuet
(my english is not very rich, excuse me)

Suzanne said...

Thank you for your comment. As I look over the post, I see that I didn't credit your work. I am very sorry about that.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."