Take It With You 05.08.2022

July, 64 AD. A great fire breaks out in Rome. Whole city blocks are destroyed. Little is left untouched. The emperor, Nero, was out of town. Or, maybe he was in town. Maybe he started the fire himself. Nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that people blamed him. No matter what he did to rebuild the city, he couldn’t stop the rumor that he was ultimately responsible. He needed a scapegoat to pin the blame on. He turned his attention to a little-known, new religious group: the Christians.

All the atrocities you could imagine were committed against the Christians. Once imperial authority had mixed with public sentiment in persecuting them, no crime against them was off-limits. Tacitus, the Roman historian, records how Nero crucified numerous Christians, then used them as torches for his licentious night parties.

The bible doesn’t record the fate of Peter, but it is hinted at. “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John  21:18). Church tradition has held from the beginning that Peter was crucified in Rome. Given Tacitus’ account, it’s not unreasonable to hold that it was during this wave of persecution that he met his fate. One apocryphal tale tells the story of Peter fleeing from Rome during this persecution. As he flees, he sees a vision of Jesus walking back toward Rome. “Quo Vadis,” Peter asks him, “Where are you going, Lord”? “To be crucified again”, the vision says. Suddenly Peter realizes the significance of it all. How can he be a rock, when he won’t go where his Lord went?

If there is any truth to this event, I would imagine Peter would have thought back to the trial of Jesus, where Peter denies Him while he warms himself by the fire. He had promised to go with Jesus even to the death, but now he can’t even bear the mild discomfort of the cold while Jesus is being whipped. But now Peter has another chance, and this time he gives up the comfort. This time he goes to the fire, not to comfort himself, but to be martyred. This time, he follows Jesus unto death. Do we act like Peter during this critical time? Or do we instead act like him during the Passion, warming ourselves by the fire, while Christ suffers for us?

~ Matthew Miller