The Church is built on forgiveness; it must be, because it was built on Peter. And Peter, as all collective memory agrees, was a man who embodied our need for it. The three denials of Christ stand out in our minds as the most offensive and exemplary, and the quo vadis story that has been passed down through the generations only confirms what we know about this fragile man.
Sadly, the episodes of Easter could only have added to the moments in Peter’s life that he would come to regret. We can think of his slowness to receive the logic of the empty tomb. We can marvel at the ease at which he leaves Mary Magdalene alone and sobbing, without a word of consolation or act of solidarity. We might even point out the strange behaviour of Peter, the fisher of men, reverting for a time to do what Simon the fisherman had done before he had ever met Jesus.
The Gospel writers are all quite plain when they present Peter to the world, and their message is very consistent. Peter is the leader of the twelve apostles, of all the disciples in fact. However, Peter is also someone who is in much need of forgiveness. And like all people in need, Peter does not understand his need. It is therefore quite fitting that our Lord would give him the lesson to forgive seventy times seven, overturning in principle the law of revenge that Lamech would demand in the first pages of Genesis:
“If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times” Genesis 4:24
Peter, as head of the Church, just like Pope Francis today, is a constant reminder that the Church, at its core and at its highest, is a body held together by forgiveness. And this too is at the heart of the Easter message. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead reveals the mercy and forgiveness of God. Let us share that message.