The Way of Beauty Peter and the Lord’s Resurrection

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Reading the Gospel narratives of the Resurrection can be confusing. They break off suddenly and contain contrasts and contradictions that crisscross each other. 

Yet one thing is clear. The Evangelists depict the women disciples as unwavering in their belief that the Lord had truly risen.  Their devotion to him could not be questioned.  The angel at the empty tomb told Mary Magdalene and the other women to announce the good news to the disciples.  Because of their great love, they believed.   

Not so with the Eleven.  If you expected to find in these narratives a luminous and transformed Peter, you might be disappointed.  On that Resurrection morning, Peter goes to the empty tomb, stoops and looks in.  Seeing the linen cloths by themselves without the body, he decides to go home, amazed at what he has seen.  'Did Jesus rise from the dead, he asks himself? Impossible!' 

It's not that the Evangelists doubt Peter's faith, nor do they wish to emphasize his failure during the Lord's passion.  Yet, he and the others as well respond differently from the women.  

From Mary Magdalene and the other women to Peter and then to Thomas and the others, a wide range of belief is evident.  Either their love enabled them to believe in the Lord's Resurrection, or, their lack of love impaired their belief. 

One Question, Three Times

In the Johannine account of the Resurrection, Peter's threefold denial is recalled as a backdrop to a different context.  No longer boasting, he has been chastened by his dreadful betrayal of Jesus.  

Once again, Jesus tests Peter with a question, one that deeply embarrasses him: "Do you love me more than these others?"  Does Peter love Jesus more than loyalty to the disciples, more than anything else in the world?  Does Jesus come before every created thing?  Peter does not compare his love with that of the other disciples but confines himself to a simple and personal protestation of love: "Yes, Lord you know that I love you."  Jesus responds: "Feed my lambs"

Again, Jesus asks: "Do you love me?"  Where is Jesus leading Peter?  We can feel Peter's embarrassment: "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."   Jesus tells Peter to look after his sheep. When Jesus asks a third time, Peter holds his temper but is clearly upset.  Jesus has matched three acts of betrayal with three questions that infer doubt in Peter's love for him.  It is clear that Peter finds it exceedingly painful to dredge up his past disloyalty, and he answers, "Lord you know everything; you know that I love you."  This Gospel writer omits any descriptive details.  Is Peter's face red with hurt?  Are his eyes filled with tears? Jesus tells him, "Feed my sheep."   Previously, Peter had been serenely confident of himself, but no longer. He will never  again boast. Instead he humbly asserts what the Lord already knows concerning his love.

In this conversation of one question asked three times, Jesus has been preparing Peter for mission.   Peter must profess his unwavering devotion to Jesus.

Pastor of Souls 

If Peter serves in 'the shoes of a fisherman,' he will also be a pastor, a shepherd of souls.  It will be Peter's destiny to follow the Good Shepherd in every detail, even to the laying down of his life. 

In his youth, Peter could go about freely where he wanted, but now and later, he must let himself be led where he'd rather not go.  

In none of the conversations does Jesus ever speak about ruling over others. The role of shepherd is to lead his flock, know them personally so that they feel close to him, and especially to lay down his life for them.  There is no talk about power, of lording over others.  The Office of Peter is one of service to others and for others. 


The Evangelists present to us different degrees of readiness and different factors that cause people to come to faith.  Yet, it does not follow that belief in the risen Jesus early in one's life will necessarily result in a faithful adult life.  

The history of the Catholic Church reveals a sobering truth. Many who once believed no longer practice their faith within the Church of Rome or in any faith. Yesterday, they believed.  Today, they don't.  Who or what drove them away? 

More in The Way of Beauty

The renewal of baptismal promises exhorts all of us: "May we walk in the newness of life . . . and renew the promises of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and his works, and promised to serve God in the holy Catholic Church."

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