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Homily for Holy Tuesday

4 April 2023, Jn 1:21-33,36-38

Sometimes, we ask questions like, “Where are you going?” Or “Where are you coming from?” and we do not necessarily mean a literal place of destination or a literal place of origin. Same in Tagalog: “Saan ka ba papunta sa sinasabi mo? Ano ang pinanggagalingan mo?”

We can ask the same questions, not literally but figuratively, as in “Just where are you going in this issue? Why don’t you just go straight to the point?” Where he is coming from with regard to this problem? Is there a context or a background to it?

So when Peter asks, “Where are you going?” I feel that what he’s reasking is, “What do you mean?” Saan ka papunta sa sinasabi mo? Ano ang pinupunto mo? Hindi siya nakasakay, as they would say in Tagalog. And Jesus’ answer is, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, though later you will be able to follow me.” A simpler way of putting it in the language of young people nowadays is, “Di mo ma-gets ngayon, mage-gets mo rin sa tamang panahon.”

I wonder if you’ve already noticed that our readings for this Holy Week are focused on particular characters in the Passion story: yesterday it was Mary of Bethany, tomorrow it will be Judas, today it’s Peter and John. During the whole Paschal triduum Thu evening till Sat evening, it will be Jesus in focus.

I wonder if you also noticed the kind of nonverbal transactions going on in today’s table fellowship scene. There is a crisis happening and they cannot seem to pin down what exactly is going on. They are talking in whispers. Jesus has just whispered to those near him that he was going to be betrayed by one of them. They react by looking at each other. Peter wants to know but he does not want to be heard or call the attention of the others, so he gives a body language signal to John by looking nodding his head at John, a signal “to find out whom Jesus meant.”

John leans back against Jesus’ chest and discreetly whispers, “Who?” Jesus whispers back to John, and then John looks at Peter who is waiting for an answer. If he were a Filipino, he would probably have pointed with his lips at what Jesus was about to do. Jesus now takes a morsel of bread and dips it and gives it to Judas, and Judas takes it. Then Jesus instructs him to “do quickly what he was supposed to do.”

The other disciples see all of this but understand it differently—that Jesus is simply reminding Judas of his tasks as procurator to prepare what they need for the Passover festival they were about to celebrate. So the rest are clueless about what was about to happen. Jesus speaks cryptically about a son of man being glorified, and about the disciples not being able to know where he is going.

If there was one character who thought he was fully in command of the situation during that evening, I think it was Peter. He was confident that he knew what was going on through body-language communications and lots of whispering and observing. He was calling the shots, but he was wrong. He actually failed to see “where Jesus was coming from.”

I think he was also whispering when he reacted vehemently to Jesus, “What do you mean I cannot follow where you are going? I am ready to give up my life for you!” It’s his way of saying, “I am quite sure I know my role here, Jesus, don’t worry, I will not allow such things to happen to you.”

And so you can imagine after the events unfolded very fast and suddenly Jesus was already being prepared for execution, Peter would look back at the many non-verbal communications that had earlier happened at that table fellowship.

In the Lukan version of the passion story, St. Luke would dramatize that scene after Peter’s denials and the rooster crowing—it would be also be consistently non-verbal. Jesus will not even say, “See what I told you?” Or “Do you now see where I was coming from?” Just as soon as Peter blurts out his third denial, Jesus is being brought away from the house of the high priest. He would turn and their eyes meet. And Luke will say, “And Peter broke down and wept bitterly.”

The bitter tears are a medicine for people afflicted with false self-confidence, people who are so sure of themselves. No words. Just one look was enough. But he will remember what Jesus had earlier said, in Luke 22:32 “Peter, I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; when you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”

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