You know neither the day nor the hour. 4

fb

From St Peter we can learn how to react and how not to react to prophecy. We read before how the Prince of the Apostles began his discipleship in awe of the wisdom and power of Christ.

Luke 5, 1-11 — Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

We know that Jesus was training Peter for something big because this incident of the miraculous catch of fish is repeated years later when the resurrected Lord causes the whole lesson to be repeated. In the fist scene described by St Luke, Peter conscious of his own sinfulness, asks the Lord to depart but in the second scene described by St John, Peter eagerly jumps in the water and swims ahead of the rest to encounter the Lord standing on the beach. One could understand the last scene as a prophetic model of the successor of Peter and the Church meeting the Lord “on the other shore” at the end of time. Adam was naked and hid from the presence of God after eating the fruit of the forbidden tree; Peter was also naked but he quickly covers himself and rushes to meet the Lord. In spite of denying Jesus three times, in spite of his many failures, Peter trusts on the Lord’s mercy with the confidence of a man who knows he has been redeemed.

Genesis 3, 8-10 — They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’

John 21, 1-8 — After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

That change in Peter can be traced if we study the way he reacted to prophecy in the beginning. He first failed to trust what Jesus announced to the twelve regarding his approaching Passion.

Matthew 16, 21-23 — From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Only one week later the Lord and a few disciples go up Mount Tabor where he is transfigured before them. There Peter fails to grasp the meaning of that astonishing spiritual experience.

Luke 9, 28-33 — Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’— not knowing what he said.

cruz-reflejoNot a very promising start for our first Pope, some would say. But tenacious Peter will come back from each of those humiliating experiences stronger, more trustful of Jesus, and with a wider understanding of God’s purpose for the Church. It will take all the rest of his life but he will crown his learning with a beautiful martyrdom, asking those who were going to crucify him, to affix him to the cross upside down “not judging himself worthy of dying in the same manner as his Lord.” In doing so he helped to produce one of the most beautiful images in Christian history, because his cross appears to our imagination as a reflection of the Cross of Christ, just as the Militant Church on earth is a reflection of the glorious New Jerusalem the Triumphant Church in Heaven.

Going back to the week of the Passion however, Peter and the disciples made the mistake of not trusting Jesus’ word that they were going to desert their Master. If we follow the events of that night, we will understand how foolish that self-reliance was, and how often Peter failed to “go with the flow” of prophecy. The lesson is obvious: as we go with Jesus through his darkest hours, we should trust his promises the most. His word is comparable to light on our path. If we oppose our own human ideas to Jesus’ word, we end up opposing darkness to light.

John 12, 35-36 — So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

Jesus, knowing that soon the disciples had to walk alone, warned them that the prophecies have to be fulfilled, and gives them a word of warning.

Matthew 26, 31-35 — Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.

Peter and the disciples could have saved themselves a lot of grief and remorse if they had only taken to heart the words of their Master. Later on Peter himself tries to stop the very word of God from coming to pass. Armed with a puny sword of iron, he tries to stop the forces set in motion by the Creator from the beginning of the world.

fb
Peter cuts the ear of Malchus

Matthew 26, 51-54 — Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?’

Apparently no amount of common sense could penetrate the thick fog obscuring Peter’s judgment that night. This is a reminder that when we are going through a dark moment in our lives we should not resist with our own forces. We should not try to revert a situation that God has set up in motion for our own good. We should not waste the lesson, missing the chance to trust God who is right there in the darkness with us. Darkness is there to summon our trust. God requires us not to display our strength but to acknowledge our weakness, and discover his strength in the hour of trouble. What is our sword compared to twelve legions of angels? Peter is learning that important lesson so he can teach it to the whole Church. In time he will have to lead the disciples through decades of trials and persecution, taking on the mighty Roman Empire armed only with spiritual weapons.

Luke 22, 54-62 — Then they seized him [Jesus] and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

Resisting prophecy cost Peter dearly. Not only he denied the Lord, he fled. Foolishly failing to pay close attention to the divine warnings always results in shame and pain. On the third day after the Crucifixion, having suffered in his heart a pain close to the tortures of the damned, Peter’s heart still fails to believe.

Mark 16, 9-13 — Now after he [Jesus] rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

It is easy for us to marvel at the thick-headedness of the disciples. We forget that often we act the same way, especially when after being given all kinds of warnings about the times of the second coming of Our Lord, we default not to the lessons of Scripture, or to the experience of the Church, the treasure of her Holy Tradition; but to some half cooked idea floating around, a flawed popular interpretation of the words of Jesus, “You know neither the day nor the hour,” and happily dismiss the very words that have been put there for our instruction and salvation. After twenty centuries of Church history, when we act that way we show how much more thick headed we are in comparison.

Mark 16, 9-13 — Later he [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Not only had the leader of the eleven denied the Lord and fled along with the rest, now they failed to believe the first witnesses of the Resurrection. One can surmise that is very likely that one of those women was Our Blessed Mother herself, along with Mary Magdalene, and other women who were brave enough to remain with Mary and Jesus at Calvary.

Luke 24, 12 — But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

fb
Peter and John got up and ran to the tomb.

The youngest of the apostles, John reached the tomb first and peeked inside. That was enough for him to believe but Peter, seeing the same, “went home amazed” and yet not putting all the facts together with the many predictions of Jesus about his resurrection!

Mark 16, 9-13 — Later he [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

Apparently Our Lord had to visit Peter in person to make him finally believe all the things that Jesus himself and all the prophets had repeated many times over.

Luke 24, 33-35 — That same hour they got up [from Emmaus] and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon [Peter]!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Peter the reluctant prophet

fbTime went by and Peter — with a little big help from the Holy Spirit — lost all timidity by Pentecost, only five weeks after the Resurrection. Studying the whole sequence of events we see how the Lord takes Peter the fisherman from that early encounter by the shores of the sea of Galilee to lead the evangelization of the world as Peter the prophet. When we are docile to the call of God, that process will be repeated in us also, if we believe.

Notice how much Peter has changed by the time the Holy Spirit was poured over the Church at Pentecost.

Acts 2, 14-24 — But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know — this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

Many years later, as a seasoned shepherd of the Church he urges everyone to be wiser than he was at the beginning of his apostolate!

2 Peter 3, 1-4 — This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’

2 Peter 1, 19 — So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

No one knows the day and the hour

Matthew 24, 36 — But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

The phrase “no one knows the day and the hour” has been used erroneously to dismiss the study of prophecy when in reality it is an exhortation to watchfulness, which is actually — to quote St Peter again — “to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”

It is true that no one knows the day and the hour of the second coming of Our Lord. That does not exempt us from being familiar with prophetic patterns. We are no longer in the first days of the Church, now we have more reasons to say that “we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.” We know many prophecies of the past that came to pass, and we know that they are a model of future events in the history of salvation. Just like Jesus did when he was training the Apostles for their mission, today he wants “to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets.”


To be continued … in the following article we will study the pattern of prophecy and the “end of the harvest” in our fifth and last study. There we shall see that – while we know not the day and the hour of Our Lord’s visitation – we have been informed of the prophetic year and week of that happy event. There is no need to fear for this is not the end of the world but the beginning of a new life of the world under God’s rule. Maranatha!