Jesus turned and looked at Peter

Let us pray.

“O LIVING ONE, you look down from heaven,
and behold all the people of the world.
From where you sit enthroned you turn your gaze
on all who dwell on the earth.
Behold, your eye, O LIVING ONE, is upon those who fear you,
on those who wait upon your love.”* Amen.

“The Lord turned and looked at Peter.”

Could we endure such a look?

This is a look wiser even than a mother’s disappointment, or a father’s reprimand. Maybe you have wilted beneath such a parental gaze.

But this look at Peter in the courtyard is much worse than that. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Not your mother or my dad. Not a wise old priest or a controversial politician or a powerful bishop or a scary boss. Not your spouse. The Lord. Here, at the end—which is also the beginning—of the Great Story, here Luke calls Jesus “the Lord,” and says that Peter remembers “the word of the Lord,” the Lord’s prediction of Peter’s betrayal. We are meant to understand that now, in this terrible moment when he gazes at his friend, now Jesus looks across the courtyard with divine authority.

Jesus looks with God’s gaze.

The Lord looks at Peter and in doing so, everything rushes back into Peter’s memory, or at the very least into our own: not just his denials and his vain promise that he wouldn’t abandon Jesus, but we also recall the festive parade just four days before, the coats thrown down to make a red carpet for a triumphant king, the shouts of “Hosanna!”—a cry from a Hebrew psalm that means, “Save us!”

In this look of the Lord, it all rushes back: The calling of the disciples three years before, and their quick response of Yes, Yes! to this call. The hopes and longings of the people, ancient even in the first century, their deep prayer to God for rescue and release, their fantasy of triumph and glory, their apocalyptic dream of an end to war, and the death of the children of war: ignorance and hunger and despair.

In this look of the Lord, it all rushes back: the prophecy of Moses and the dreams of Joseph; the visions of Jacob and the faith of Abraham; Noah on the deck of his ship searching the horizon for the dove’s return; Adam and Eve hiding in the garden as God looks for them, walking in the cool of the evening and calling out to them. God creating the world, and pausing each day to look at that world, to look and to proclaim creation good.

“God’s gaze is good,” Gail Ramshaw says. She is a Lutheran scholar of liturgical language, an aficionado of metaphor. She relishes in the endless images we humans use to talk about God. “Our language,” Gail writes, “our language assumes that God has eyes, that God sees everything, that God gazes on the faithful. We would hardly draw God as a great nose or a mammoth mouth, but even our God is pictured sometimes as a single open eye in the center of a triangle. That eye of course would never blink,” Gail continues, “and even when tears would wash it of the world’s dust, it would gaze through the tears with penetrating mercy.”

Perhaps Gail Ramshaw’s reflection can inform us as we stand here today under the devastating gaze of the Lord in that courtyard. “The Lord turned and looked at Peter,” we proclaim. Perhaps that look is a look of “penetrating mercy.”

Yes, yes, it is exactly this. But the mercy penetrates. It is not an easygoing mercy, a quick “eh, Peter, no worries, it’s fine, we’re fine, peace.” No. This mercy is terrible: it terrifies, it devastates, it harrows. Gail Ramshaw helps us open this up, too. “The testimony of the Hebrew people,” she writes, “is that a human being cannot endure the prolonged gaze of God. Moses can glimpse only on God’s backside, for even the highest human holiness cannot meet the divine eyes. We hide with Adam and Eve in the bushes of Eden. We cower with the tax collector behind the pillar. We run with Peter from the courtyard.” (end quote)

Our Lord’s look gathers into itself the whole Story, the Story of our response to God’s love. He looks at us and he finds us wanting. Again and again we fail to do what we are called to do, what we are baptized to do, what we gain strength at this Table of Thanksgiving to go out and do. Again and again we embrace our brother Peter with empathy: we know his pain.

But the Lord gathers all this up, gathers us up too, not to destroy us, but to hold us in prayer before God. “Father, forgive them,” he prays from the cross, “for they do not know what they are doing.” We discover, then, that his gaze at us is a prayer, a prayer for forgiveness. And it is in that prayer that life is brought from death.

Jesus prays for our forgiveness, and God responds with resurrection.

There is no human experience that escapes the gaze of Jesus; he sees us exactly as we are. If you are anything like me, you find this more than a little unsettling. None of my attempts to impress God with my uncanny impression of a flawless human being will work. God sees the real me. And that is an awful thought.

But this gaze is one of penetrating mercy. It is a look of harrowing forgiveness. It is tear-washed eyes turned toward us with self-giving love.

Let us pray.

“O LIVING ONE, you look down from heaven,
and behold all the people of the world.
From where you sit enthroned you turn your gaze
on all who dwell on the earth.
Behold, your eye, O LIVING ONE, is upon those who fear you,
on those who wait upon your love.” Amen.

***

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

* Excerpt of Psalm 33, as translated in Gail Ramshaw, A Metaphorical God: An Abecedary of Images for God (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1995), 39-40. Subsequent quotations are also taken from this source.