Peter said no

A Maundy Thursday reflection

Peter said no. At least at first.

Peter – oh, poor Simon Peter – was always trying to work it out, get it straight in his head. No, you cannot go to Jerusalem to die, what are you thinking? No, I cannot walk on water, now that I come to think of it several paces from the boat. No, you cannot wash my feet. No, I did not know him.

Poor Simon Peter. He was among the first to follow, and he resisted all the way, but his resistance was futile. 

It was Simon Peter who drew his sword in the Garden and severed the ear of Malchus, a slave, so that even in his lowest hour, stretched to breaking, Jesus had still to reach forth his hand once more in healing.

How hard it is to let Jesus serve us, save us, and know that there is no repayment necessary nor sufficient, that Jesus does not need us to defend him or protect him.

How often have I heard you or myself say something like, “I don’t like to owe anyone anything. I prefer to be independent”? Yet even Jesus allowed Mary to anoint his feet, and to wipe them with her hair. How will we ever learn truly to seek and serve Christ in all persons, unless we allow that he has shown us the way, unless we embrace his humility?

Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. Peter, who was always saying no, except when he said yes.

Once, Jesus tried to give him an out, when many others were leaving. “Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (John 6:67-68)

Jesus offers us the words of eternal life. We live in a time of reawakened war and continuing chaos. We gather gladly, but we grieve the millions of lives lost while we were sheltering in place these past two years. We struggle with the spring: even our environment is askew. 

In the midst of it all, in a world of “no”, even though he was facing his own human limits, Jesus reaches for us and offers us the word of eternal life, God’s “yes” to our confusion. “You do not know now what it means,” Jesus says to poor, faithfully bewildered Simon Peter, “but later you will understand.” 

We do not summon him with our prayers; he is here before us, where he has been from the beginning. He washes us with his love, feeds us with his body. His life and death betray God’s mercy. All we can do is follow.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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