Fr. Francis Scaria

Smiley faceIn Acts 10 we find that when centurion Cornelius met Peter, he fell at Peter’s feet and worshipped him. But Peter made him get up saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal” (Act 10:26). If we analyse the life of Peter we can find that he had a privileged position among the disciples. He was evidently the first among them. He had a reason to be proud of. This position gave him a lot of confidence and sometimes even overconfidence. When Jesus predicted the possibility of denial, Peter confidently said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk 22:33). The Psalmist says, “The boastful will not stand before your eyes” (Ps 5:5). St. Paul puts it very bluntly when he says, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1Cor 10:12). One of the most pathetic moments in the passion narrative is that of Peter denying Jesus. The fact that he did it three times in spite of warnings almost suggests that it was an intentional act and so increasing the culpability. The fact that he did that in the presence of mere servant girls shows how low he had fallen. Whatever be the comment of any exegete on that passage, one thing is beyond doubt – Peter realised that he was only a mortal and that realisation remained with him for ever. This experience kept him grounded in reality; it humbled him. He could remember that incident only with tears in his eyes and on every such occasion he was reminded how weak he was. This made him a humble servant.

This is not an isolated experience of Peter, but of every Christian leader. Apostle Thomas doubted. He was humbled when the Risen Lord chided him and said, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (Jn 20:29). How could St. Thomas be every proud of his faith! Every time he preached to the people he was aware that he was preaching a good news which he himself had initially failed to accept, that too preached by the most authentic witnesses. This kept him humble.

Could St. Paul ever be proud of his position as a great missionary? The growth of the early Church is largely due to his missionary endeavour. Yet he too realised that he was only a mortal who in spite of his intelligence, eloquence, training and other credentials he could not perceive the truth of the Messiah in Christ Jesus during his younger days. Sticking to his wrongly-formed conviction, he kept on persecuting the Christians. Paul could not forgive himself for that. He says, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1Cor 15:9). When Paul is remembered, he is first remembered as a persecutor and only then as a missionary. This made him a humble missionary. In Act 14 we find that seeing a cripple from birth healed by Paul, the crowds “lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" (Act 14:11). Paul reacted by saying, "Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you...” (Act 14:15) and scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

Moving to the Old Testament, David realised he was only a mortal when he perceived how low he had fallen committing adultery, cheating, calumny and even murder. How could he ever boast of his own ability and competence!

Those in authority and leadership position often get carried away by the honour they receive and sometime they begin to feel that they are more than human beings and at times tragically that they consider themselves as semi-gods. The sins and failures of our past should always remind us that we are only mortals. The power and positions are giving to us not because any of us can have a claim to it, but only because of God’s Grace. Peter had a hundred reason to be proud of, but every time he would be humbled by the recollection of what had happened at “the fire in the middle of the courtyard” (Lk 22L55) at the house of the high priest. Seeking media attention and publicity, misuse of authority, mutual incensing, tendency to remain elevated from the ordinary people – all these are symptoms of corrupt leadership. We need to make conscious effort to overcome such temptations.

MUSINGS : 1-25, 26-50, 51-75

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