On June 29, we celebrate the feast of St. Peter, a good chance to visit the vocation of this apostle par excellence. Although we know St. Peter well, his figure never ceases to fascinate us. He is the great Peter, the enthusiastic and generous man who also knew our weakness and smallness! (Mt 5:1-11)
PUBLISHED ONJun 2016
When I think of Peter, what comes to mind is what the book of Acts of the Apostles says with regard to his…shadow! The population of Jerusalem and the area around there brought their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and sleeping mats in the hope that, at least, the shadow of Peter might fall across some of them as he went past, for them to be cured (Acts 5:15).
What is there that’s more discreet or subtle, humble or silent than a shadow? But Peter’s was particularly alive and industrious…a mysterious shadow that left behind it a trail of light and life! A beneficent, luminous shadow which, wherever it passed, made the suffering people dance with joy! It reminds us of Jesus who “went about doing good and curing all” (Acts 10:38).
Yes, that was, undoubtedly, the “shadow of Jesus!” There is no shadow without light. The sun of Christ illuminated Peter, surrounded all his life, accompanied each of his steps, made his actions fruitful and wide-reaching. It was Jesus who hid in the shadow of His beloved friend.
This shadow, however, has a long story which we can glimpse in the preaching of the pages of the Gospel.
Everything had begun just over three years earlier, perhaps in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Following the route that led along the River Jordan, Peter and other friends took their opportunity to hear the “Voice” coming from the desert. Indeed, it seems that Andrew supported his brother. It was precisely there that they got to know Jesus. He also went down to the Jordan, following an inner calling that attracted him to that place where the prophetic word of The Baptist resonated loudly. Andrew was the first one to meet Jesus. Fascinated and convinced, he had discovered the Messiah and he wanted to share the great news with his brother. It was a lightning meeting! Jesus stared into Peter’s eyes, called him by his name Simon and, looking at his solidness, gave him a new name: Peter, the Rock (Jn 1:40-42).
It was the beginning of a great friendship. Then, one day, “the son of the carpenter” surprised “Simon, the fisherman,” with a miraculous fishing episode which made him fall at His feet, confessing his sins (Lk 5:1-11). And from that point on, the great and exciting adventure, as a disciple of the “Prophet from Nazareth,” began. The great dream of Israel was about to happen. Jesus spoke about the coming of the Kingdom of God. The portentous signs He gave, His Word full of authority which kept the crowds amazed (Mk 1:27), made expectations about Jesus grow.
Peter became the head of the group, the Master’s confidant, sticking to Him like His shadow. Associating him in an unusual way to His mission, Jesus gave him His powers, even entrusting him with “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 16:19). In the synoptic Gospels, Peter appears as Jesus’ favorite apostle.
At a certain point, however, something began to go wrong. Jesus resisted the crowds who wanted to acclaim Him king. The demands He made on His followers drove away a good number of them. Then the unexpected happened: Jesus said He had to go to Jerusalem, where great suffering and death awaited Him, to “resurrect on the third day.” The group of Twelve felt confused and half lost. Peter felt obliged to intervene to ward off a similar shadow! Jesus’ reaction, however, was unexpected and severe: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do”(Mk 8:31-33).
Peter was shocked, humiliated and saddened. Peter….a stumbling block? Had his shadow suddenly become “sinister” to Jesus? What had happened? Peter was thinking he was “protecting” the Master by putting himself in front of Him, but he had forgotten that it was His “shadow” and, therefore, it should follow behind. That “putting yourself in front of My path” obscured the Father’s Plan and reminded Jesus of the tempter who tried to cover the path with his grim dark shadow.
But then the memorable welcome to Jerusalem took place. The apostles breathed a sigh of relief and shouted as loudly as they could with the crowd of Galilean pilgrims: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who is coming in the Name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:9-10). However, they had not calculated on the determination of the heads of the Jewish nation who had decided to kill Jesus. Everything happened quickly when Judas offered them an unexpected opportunity to lay their hands on Him discreetly: during the night, in a lonely place, far from the crowds, defenseless…
At His last supper, Jesus announced that His hour was near. The cloud of sadness and worry again descended over the group. Peter, who had recovered his self-confidence, full of zeal, declared he was ready to fight to defend Jesus, ready to sacrifice his life or die with Him. The “shadow” continued stuck to the Master, even at night! But when Jesus, with a sad smile, predicted that they would all abandon Him and that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed (Jn 13:36-38), again that dark ghost furtively took over Peter’s heart, freezing his enthusiasm. Could the Master doubt his friendship and loyalty?
What happened next is what we all already know. An unsure and unaccomplished Peter still tries to defend the Master with his sword (Jn 18:10-11) but ends up fleeing, like all the others. Then comes the fateful moment around the camp fire, in the enemy field. That fire, populating the night of ghosts, projects into Peter’s heart the paralyzing shadow of fear, a shadow that is not of the Master’s: “I do not know Him” (Lk 22:57). It is Jesus looking at him that suddenly wakes him up from his stupor. He then hears the cock crow, remembers the words of Jesus…” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk 22:62).
When Jesus is resurrected, He goes looking for His scattered flock (Mk 14:27). He pays particular attention to go and free Peter from his “paralyzing shadow,” which would fatally shadow his heart and his ministry. Jesus proceeds in both an elegant and discreet way. In a moment of intimacy, around the morning fire, Peter confesses his friendship three times and reconfirms it, also three times, in his ministry. The “third time” awakens the shadow of sadness buried in Peter’s heart and has an effective therapeutic effect: “Lord, You know everything; You know I am Your friend!” (Jn 21:17). And, Jesus, who only days earlier had told him he couldn’t “follow Him” immediately, now invites him to do so, with a solemn "Follow Me!" Moreover, He tells him he’ll share His same destiny and martyrdom (Jn 21:19). Peter will again be Jesus’ faithful shadow! Crucified, in time, like Him, he’ll ask to be turned upside down, so as to be simply the “shadow” of his Master on the cross.
I ask myself: how could Peter live serenely with that shadow of his Martyr, which would hover over any one of us like a continuous threat? Only his great friendship and his identification with Jesus could give a luminous aspect to that “shadow.” It was the Master’s because it worked the same miracles (Mk 6:56), doing good wherever it passed!
And our shadow?
Like Peter, we were called – by baptism – to let ourselves be illuminated by the Light of Christ: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” He will expel the “dark shadows” of the “demons” and the “paralyzing shadows” of the “ghosts” that hide in our heart.
Like Peter, we are invited – by vocation – to live in the “shadow of the Lord:” “Yahweh is your Guardian, your Shade, Yahweh, at your right hand” (Ps 121:5). A shadow which is refreshing, protective, a friend and, at the same time, discreet, which embraces but does not suffocate.
Like Peter, we are called – as a mission – to be the “shadow of Jesus,” a beneficent shadow, offering shelter and protection, “like the shade of a solid rock in a desolate land” (Is 32:2), like the apple tree whose shade is so desired by the Wife (Song 2:3). There are so many people who feel unsheltered, under the scorching sun of hunger and injustice, of anguish and loneliness. It won’t be great discussions or ostentatious actions that will bring comfort and hope to those suffering but the discreet friendly shadow of the person who comes next to you. This consoling shadow is inhabited by the Spirit, pregnant from fecundity like that which covered the Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35). May the Lord allow us to be His blessed shadow!
We should ask ourselves: how is our shadow? What is it doing behind us? From time to time, it is good to give it a furtive glance, to surprise it in action. Is it sowing good or undoing behind our backs what we have been trying to do in front? Is it luminous, the projection of Christ Resuscitated? Or, on the contrary, is it obscured by the dark cloud of egotism or greed for profit, thirst for power, a slave for pleasure? We all know, by experience, how terrible such shadows are. Nothing grows next to them.
Look at the trail left behind by your shadow and you’ll know if Christ’s light illuminates your life!