In one of the many great scenes in thernMarx Brothers’ Duck Soup, Groucho and the ever-dumbfounded Margaret Dumont arernbehind a door listening to what sounds like a burglar downstairs. When Margaretrnasks Groucho if he is going to investigate the sound, Groucho hesitates. Shernscolds him, wondering aloud if he is a man or a mouse. The unfrazzled Grouchornretorts, “Put a piece of cheese down there and we’ll both find out.”
The Lenten season is a time ofrnreflection on a lot of things, and how courageous we are in the face of sin isrnprobably top on the list. The reservoir of meaning that is the Passion of ourrnLord spills over with rumination on all the negative consequences of sin.
First and foremost, it requires the Sonrnof God to atone for our transgressions. Secondarily, the events of Good Fridayrnare almost entirely the radioactive results of the Fall, taking shape in sornmuch fear, pain and cowardice. Good Friday is epic in scale and scope, whichrnexplains why it has long enthralled Hollywood — from Cecil B. DeMille’s silent versionrnof “King of Kings” to Mel Gibson’s very noisy version of “The Passion” andrnbeyond.
DeMille’s take, and so many otherrnrenditions that follow, is a little too maudlin for modern audiences. But “ThernPassion,” punctuated by the filmmaking sensibilities of Mel Gibson, createsrnenough blood and mayhem to make “Die Hard” look like a romantic comedy.
Whether a particular artistic handrnpaints the Passion with a feather duster or a sledgehammer, the result isrnalways the same, and we are presented with gut-wrenching examples of cowardice.rnAnd if we are serious about our faith, it is a time to ask not what would Jesusrndo, but what would I do?
I have often wondered what side of therncheese I’d be on if I was ever confronted with something as dire and profoundrnas what took place on that long ago Good Friday. Having a rap sheet of so manyrnmoments of weakness and failings, I tremble at the thought.
We would all like to think we’d bernbrave and stand up for Jesus when nobody else would and just dare the nextrnRoman Centurion to look cross-eyed at us…but that is fantasy — one that wouldrnprobably disintegrate in a puff of smoke at the unsheathing of the firstrngladius.
Just a few short weeks ago, some policernofficers in Florida had their Passion moment…and it didn’t end well for them. Arnderanged gunman was murdering innocents inside a building. They chose to stayrnoutside the building. Men like the school’s football coach, who were unarmedrnand possessed no body armor to speak of, did enter the building, and they paidrnwith their lives.
The 24-hour news cycle gobbled up thesernofficers and spit them out for several days. They were labeled all the thingsrnno person wants to be called out on in public. We prefer our cowardice in thernshadows where it belongs. Fortunately for these men, the same voracious newsrncycle that used them for its fuel soon burned through them and moved on tornother combustibles.
But St. Peter is not so fortunate. Hisrnmoment of cowardice is about to be relived once again in sanctuaries all overrnthe world.
Amid cries of “Crucify Him!” the lessrnthan stellar actions of our first pontiff will be in full display. In vividrndetail we will hear how this first among equals, this keeper of the Keys of thernKingdom, had his moment of truth, and then denied the truth three times.
Not all four Gospels recount thernPassion in the exact same way. Some include information that others do not, butrnall four include Peter’s denial. You might refer to this as the “eternal newsrncycle.” And with all things eternal and relating to Jesus, all things arernpossible.
In the end, St. Peter more than makesrnup for his stumbles and represents one of the great joys of the Easter season.rnWith the grace and saving mercy of Jesus as our power source, we can all risernto where we were meant to be.
For St. Peter, that was pretty far, andrnthough in his time and in our time, you would not classify his death as arnHollywood ending — dying upside down on a cross at the hands of a maniacalrnRoman Emperor — it remains a victory of incredible faith and a signpost for thernrest of us cowards to heed.