Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Swearing Apostle and a Swearing Priest

In Mark 14:66-72 a precocious servant girl gives an apostle some lip and he doesn’t respond very well at all. In fact, Peter denies any association at all with Jesus. Poor old Peter is standing by the fire trying to warm himself and all of a sudden he’s being attacked on all sides by complete strangers, the whole thing being egged on by a snotty little servant girl who should have known and kept her place. Didn’t she know that children were to be seen and not heard? She’s a slave for goodness sake, and a girl as well! Who does she think she is anyway? She calls him, “one of them,” and says he was “with the Nazarene.” People standing around picked up the idea and joined in the fun, throwing a kind of racial slur in as well. “You are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

Ever been called “one of them”? Galileans were considered hicks, out of town yokels. Over in the U.S., if you live in the state of Virginia the people in West Virginia are hillbillies, but if you live in West Virginia it’s the other way around. We tend to think of Tasmanians as a bit backward but since I went there last week I’ve had to change my estimate of them. They’re really quit nice. In fact an antique dealer asked me if I was from the “north island” meaning the mainland. Perhaps in his mind it was we mainlanders who were a little backward. Don’t get me started on the differences between Queenslanders and Victorians or Sydney people and Melbourne people. Dame Edna recounts how when as a child she sucked the milk shake through the bottom of the straw it made a gurgling sound and her mother said, “Don’t do that dear. Sydney people do that.”

Here Peter has his association with Jesus thrown in his face and three times he denies the connection. First he says, “I don't know or understand what you're talking about.” The second time we don’t know his exact words only that when the girl said, “this fellow is one of them” he denied it. His third denial was very explicit, “I don't know this man you're talking about.”

And then comes verse 72, which must be one of the most dramatic moments in all of biblical history, perhaps in all history. When the rooster crowed the words of Jesus suddenly came back to Peter. “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Peter began to "call down curses” and “swore to them” that he didn’t know Jesus. I couldn’t help thinking of Father Geoff Baron, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral who was stood down from his position this week after swearing at skateboarders and issuing racial slurs at them as they were hoolaginising around the cathedral precincts.

Here is an excerpt from the coverage in The Age yesterday:

Dean Baron said he had “snapped” and regretted it. “The shame that I feel and the embarrassment, I can't really describe,” he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. “It was outrageous behaviour, I let myself down terribly badly, that's quite clear and I've also brought scandal and shock to other people.” He said he had been provoked when the teenagers, who were skating on the cathedral steps, called him a paedophile. “I can't excuse it, I wouldn't even try to; I don't know why I said those things. “It might be linked up in some way that so many priests are considered to be paedophiles and here I was being called one.” However, Dean Baron said he would not apologise to the teenagers he abused. “I have the impression that that particular gang of skateboarders, they take a particular delight and joy in reducing people to grovelling measures as I was, that's their goal, that's their aim. “So I don't think I owe them an apology as such, I apologise to all who were scandalised by my behaviour.”
[Reko Rennie, “Swearing Priest Suspended,” The Age (July 31st 2007), 3.14pm.]

There is more than a little of Peter’s betrayal in the Dean’s actions, but also more than a little of Peter’s sorrow and repentance. If this were the end of the story it would truly be tragedy on the level of Judas’ betrayal. Who knows what pits of despair Peter would have spiralled into? But, as we know, this wasn’t the end of the story. After he rose from the dead, Jesus met Peter on the beach for breakfast and gave him three opportunities to affirm his love for him. “Peter do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Three times this exchange took place and in this trinity of absolutions the whole sorry mess was washed away.

This is how it is. The tragedy of our denial of God through our sin is met by the generosity of God’s affirmation of us, through the generosity of God’s forgiveness. That is true for Peter, for Father Baron, for the skateboarders who mocked him and called him a paedophile, for those who laughed at the “silly old priest” on You Tube, and for you, and for me.


Ross McPhee said...

I probably shouldn't read too much into these things, but it's interesting that the incident at St. Patrick's Cathedral took place almost a year ago, but only became public knowledge last weekend. Apparently those who know Father Baron have said that his outburst was totally out of character. He's obviously quite contrite about it. The youths who were on the receiving end of the tirade should be thankful they weren't dealing with the prophet Elishah.

Sophie said...

'quit'? i think you mean 'quite'!


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