In John’s Gospel, we are taken to the table with a troubled Christ and the apostles, and John leans back against Jesus’ chest and asks, Master, who is it?
We can read of many instances of Jesus touching people to heal them, and particularly poignant, the woman whose only hope is to touch the hem of his garment so she can be made whole. But like a child who crawls into our lap without asking permission, John’s affectionate act of touch, leaning against his Master’s chest, suggests how deeply he knows and loves Jesus and feels loved in return. Who is it, John seems to ask. It wasn’t me who betrayed you, because I love you so much.
Mothers can understand something of the weariness Jesus must have felt at the end of his earthly ministry, like the depletion we may feel at the end of a long week giving our children what they need. They press against us, asking, wanting things, but still we strive to teach them to become human beings capable of giving and receiving love.
Jesus’ reach in teaching the childlike apostles seems boundless, his patience endless. When Peter declares to Jesus, You will never wash my feet—something even the lowest slave would not have to do for another—Christ answers him, Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance from me. And again, when Peter says, I will lay down my life for you, Jesus lays bare the reality of that promise: Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.
And Peter still insists he will never be moved from Jesus’ love.
When our children are very young, and promise us they will be good from now on, we might hug them and, say, I believe you, and tell them that we love them.
What about when they reach the age of reason and promise never to do the bad thing again?
We aren’t as nice. Because the stakes are bigger, because their moral and physical lives are at risk, we may punish them in ways that hurt. We take away the phone, isolate them, make them pay restitution. We say, I am punishing you because I love you, but do they believe us?
Do we allow them our trust again, or make them aware over and over that they have shamed themselves—and us—and irrevocably damaged that trust?
Despite all of Peter’s mistakes, despite his simplicity, Christ Jesus allows him the greatest trust he could bestow: I tell you that you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church.
As mothers, as parents, we must dig deep and ask whether our children have strayed or are hurting. Why are we no longer a refuge for them? How can I be present to my child? How can I care for their inner hearts and bestow faith in them?
Would my child want to lean against my chest and ask, Who is it? It wasn’t me who betrayed you, because I love you so much?
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; Let me never be put to shame (Ps 71:1).