Always and Never. Two words, which, I frequently argue, should probably be removed from the English language. Of course, this is usually during a heated discussion with my husband: “I have never done that,” or “You always say that.” Still, I would suggest that at the very least, we need to be more circumspect in our use of them.
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ gives one much to chew on – not least of which is the rapid movement of Jesus being hailed with adulation heard in the first Gospel of Palm Sunday, to being ridiculed and criminalized by the second. Recently Sr. Nuala Kenny, author of the book Rediscovering the Art of Dying, stated that for 4 months she read and reflected on the Passion every day, which led to her writing the book. Clearly, there is much to ponder.
Maybe because of a recent always/never conversation with Wayne though, Peter’s use of similar words in the Passion reading, Mark’s version of which we hear proclaimed today, is what speaks to me now: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you,” he says to Jesus. (Some translations use the word ‘never.’) And yet he does. When Peter says ‘never,’ he means it. When I say it, I mean it. But ‘always’ and ‘never’ are long times.
With the greatest of intentions on the part of humans, we regularly fail in our promises. God, however, does not. God tells Noah in Genesis that he will ‘never’ again destroy the earth. While we humans seem intent on doing just that, raising concern among environmentalists that we may finally succeed in these efforts, the earth pushes back against our pillage of it. A recent trip to Hawaii has given me strong evidence of that in lush vegetation that no amount of concrete can contain. Jesus tells us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that he will ‘always’ be with us – through our own experience of it, many can attest to the abiding presence of God in our lives. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that those who drink from the water he gives will ‘never’ be thirsty. After the feeding of the 5000, he tells his disciples that he is the Bread of Life, with which we will ‘never’ be hungry. After the death of his friend Lazarus, he asks Lazarus’ sister Martha, if she believes that those who believe and live in him will ‘never’ die. Faith helps us to hope and see that this is so.
Peter, the first to know and name Jesus as the Messiah; Peter, to whom Jesus left the responsibility of building his Church; Peter, one of the inner circle of the Apostles – Peter knows more than most, the unconditional and unending love, mercy and forgiveness of God; passionate, bumbling Peter. And Peter, in recognition that he has failed in this promise, as per Jesus’ prediction that he would, weeps bitterly. So have I.
Yet Peter did fulfill his promise to Jesus. In the end, he died a martyr’s death for his belief in Christ – ultimately, his promise to ‘never’ deny Jesus was kept. I will work on my never and always … once again.
Archdiocese of Moncton Office of Faith Development