Just this week, this story from the UK caught my attention, if only for the stark quality of the reporting of the offences and the judgement. It’s worth reading if only to realise that we do not live in a world marked by the quality of mercy.
Chris Huhn and Vicky Price have done wrong, inarguably – ‘THEREFORE they must pay the price’.
It is the remorseless logic of this Sequitur that the Law demands. Judgement without mercy.
Recently I’ve taken much time to consider Peter. In some respects he is my patron Saint – with his at times almost comedic attempts to get it right and his lack of the classic virtues. Lent, when we look at the reality of our lives is a time I keep coming back to Peter.
Of course we all know of Peter’s gravest error, that he denies Jesus three times. The early church agonised for years over those who publicly disowned Jesus when faced with the possibility of death. Thus revealing that the denial is not to be dismissed as some adolescent overexuberance on the Chief Apostle’s part. Jesus’ restoration of Peter is no mere pat on the head, understanding ‘that we all make mistakes’. This is a Grave offence. Which reveals that Jesus’ actions towards Peter as in our terms frankly scandalous.
However much we try and psychologise the interchange between Jesus and Peter – ‘of course he had punished himself enough’- the fact is that there is NO punishment. Most interestingly Jesus does not even demote him. Jesus knows he cannot trust Peter, but then he knows what is in a man. He appointed him knowing he would fail him. And having asked ‘are you still on board? Are you still following?’ – reinstates him to his position of Chief Shepherd – he doesn’t even take away the privelege of martyrdom, which Peter has scorned.
What is clearly not central here are Peter’s quality as a leader, however much many ‘biblical sermon series on heroes of faith’ try and project our Ideals onto this and other frail humans. As has been remarked over and over again, by our criteria Jesus’ choice of those who will carry his mission into the world makes no sense at all.
WE would chose better, and having made such judgements, the price of failure, of not being what Our judgement had suggested those chosen actually were, would be demotion. What church leader, when fallen from Grace, is reinstated? The judgement of those who called him, or her, are shown to be faulty . . . the chosen one pays the price. Our failure of judgement is laid on the one we called.
No, what is central is not a quality in Peter. Jesus hasn’t seen something in Peter which we could see as well if only we tried hard enough. No. What is Central – indeed the only thing that matters is the call of Jesus. That is all. Peter IS unqualified – that is clear and only becomes more so. His only qualification that matters is the call of Jesus, and this endures after all the other ‘qualifications’ are shown to be straw.
In the case of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, there is no reinstatement for ‘the guilty pair’ – no-one says to them ‘neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin’. All there is is the remorseless logic of the law, tempered by . . . nothing. They had high office, we expected better, they must pay the price . . . Of course as the elections in the Vatican remind us, Peter’s office was even higher
At the heart of the Christian faith is a dead Jew on a Roman Cross. In just a few days now we will stand before this cross. Perhaps for the first time today, one of the most significant messages that the Cross of Christ conveys to the World struck me. That is that Judgement itself is Judged and found utterly wanting. The death of the one who had no sin, for all its metaphysical overtones, in its starkness reveals that human judgement is itself only an instrument of death. That the only one who is not worthy of death is judged to be worthy of death by the world, says everything.
Of course, if Christians started to truly treat one another with the sort of mercy that Jesus showed Peter – reinstating fallen leaders, throwing parties for Prodigals, then of course we would in all likelihood lose much if not all of our credibility in the world.
But then when you think about it, the idea that the Creator of the Universe hangs on a Cross, to reveal his utter mercy. That on the third day he rose from the dead and began the work of reinstating and restoring all those who had so publicly humiliated him – is itself not credible. Perhaps that’s why we continue to judge and so be judged. We don’t really believe, that it’s true. ‘People Do need to be punished, they must pay the price’. We don’t believe the fundamental doctrine of our faith, the Jesus has paid the price.
If it really IS true however that the Chosen one pays the Price – then perhaps we might see the world differently. If the punishment Has really been laid on Him, then Jesus’ re-instatement of Peter is actually not the most incredible thing – rather the Divine Sequitur of mercy is the only possible response. It’s all that’s left. The price has been paid.