Sunday, June 09, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (13)

“Go, tell his disciples and Peter …”

The earliest manuscripts of the gospel of Mark end with a “young man” (read: angel) instructing three terrified women at the open tomb of the Lord Jesus to go and share the news that while Jesus of Nazareth had died and been buried, Christ the Lord had risen and planned to meet with his followers once more.

No wonder they trembled.

But the angel’s instructions are intriguing: “Go, tell his disciples … and Peter.” This is certainly an unusual formulation, but there is good reason for it, and the fact that Mark’s gospel is commonly thought to be Peter’s own retelling of events makes it all the more bittersweet. No other gospel records the command in precisely this way, so if Peter’s account it is, his candor is commendable.

If we step back in Mark only two chapters, the reason for the angel’s peculiar phrasing becomes apparent. Peter has denied knowing “the Nazarene, Jesus” three times over. How could any objective third party reasonably referred to him as a “disciple” when in his very own words he had stridently denied any such association?

But while the words are in the mouth of an angel, we recognize he is not offering his own personal opinion about Peter. He is acting at his Lord’s direction, and there is both grace and truth to be observed in his language:

First, the truth: excluding Peter from the “disciples” is rigidly honest and ruthlessly accurate. It takes Peter at his word. It respects his freedom of choice and freedom of association. Though the Lord knew full well Peter would shortly be fully restored and recommissioned to “Follow me”, his emissary does not presume it when speaking of him to others. That was not their concern. It was between the Lord and Peter.

Then, there is the grace: though Peter could not at the moment be properly named among the disciples, he is specifically singled out among all the numerous self-professed non-disciples of Jesus to be included in the Lord’s implicit invitation to meet him in Galilee. I think of Paul’s words to Timothy that “he cannot deny himself.” Those who are truly “in Christ” are never beyond restoration because our ultimate destiny is no longer is our own hands. It is in the hands of Almighty God.

For those of us most acutely aware of our own failings in discipleship, that’s an encouraging thought.

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Original image courtesy Philip De Vere [CC BY-SA 3.0]

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