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By Romano Guardini   
Thursday, 24 October 2013

And finally, on the terrible last night Jesus prophesies that before dawn the impetuous one who so boldly declares: “Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death” will betray him thrice. Peter does not believe him, but it happens: a slave-girl gatekeeper scares him into it, and the Rock, seeing Jesus led past him on the way to prison, remembering, weeps bitterly. But then there is a change of tone. Simon Peter and several other disciples go fishing on the Lake of Galilee. All night long they toil without catching a thing. In the gray of dawn they see someone standing on the coast who calls to them: “Cast the net to the right of the boat and you will find them,” a multitude of fish—which they do. The disciple whom Jesus loved, John, says to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And Simon Peter, pulls on his shirt, girds himself and jumps overboard to swim to land. The others follow in the boat, and they all breakfast together. After the meal Jesus says to Peter: “Simon, son of John, dost thou love me more than these do?” And Peter replies: “Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” Jesus: “Feed my lambs.” Again: “Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?” “Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” “Feed my lambs.” And a third time: “Simon, son of John, dost thou love me?” And Peter murmurs sadly: “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest [also] that I love thee.” 
‘Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to thee, when thou wast young thou didst gird thyself and walk where thou wouldst. But when thou art old thou wilt stretch forth thy hands, and another will gird thee, and lead thee where thou wouldst not.’ Now this he said to signify by what manner of death he should glorify God. And having spoken thus, he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:15–19). Here too an event from the past is recalled, transfigured, and continued. Peter too has changed. He no longer answers Christ with his old confidence. Humbler, shamefacedly when Jesus repeats his question a second and a third time and he realizes that he is being punished for his triple treason, he replies cautiously: You know that I love you! . . . Jesus’ promise at Caesarea Philippi is confirmed: Peter is to remain the Rock and Keeper of the heavenly Keys; he is to be shepherd of the entire flock of his Lord. All that has been remains: Jesus remains, and Peter remains; but everything is transfigured, and the passion through which Peter one day must pass is indicated in the last words heavy with shades of Golgotha. The Evangelist writing, John, is now almost a hundred years old; thirty years have passed since Christ’s prophecy was fulfilled, and Peter in Rome followed his Master to the cross. Then comes a brief passage so full of mystery and memories that one easily loses the thread. John, the centenarian, recalls a detail of that hour so many years ago. Peter, happy again now that he has been pardoned, resumes something of his old garrulousness. After hearing his own future prophesied, he points to John: “Lord, and what of this man?” In the swift question we catch an undercurrent of jealousy, in spite of the stout band of friendship between the two. The old man, speaking of himself in the sentences that follow, touches on the secret of his life, his special place in Jesus’ love. The Lord replies: “If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee? Do thou follow me” (John 21:21–23). Why do these words go so deep? John is the exception. Between him and Jesus lies a profound mystery of love. He does not say what the Lord’s words mean, he only repeats them. They have often been misinterpreted to indicate that John, like Elias, was not to die, but to be spirited away into heaven. No, John himself insists, that is not what Christ said; he said only: “If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?” The passage is already heavy with eternity as the aged Evangelist writes it one last time, without comment, putting it down carefully, word for word.   


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