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St Cyril of Alexandria Commentary on John (Fifth Part)

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37 Peter saith unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow Thee even now? I will lay down my life for Thee.

What is there, he means, that prevents or that can keep him back from following His Master, now that his deliberate aim is to die for Christ's sake, reckoning this as his proudest boast? For the utmost of all danger, and the extremest violence of the implacable enmity of persecutors, have no effect beyond the range of the flesh; for with the flesh alone has death to deal: and he that is ready and fully prepared even for this extreme, would not easily be hindered from his purpose, or give up his intense conviction as to the duty of following to the end. The zeal of Peter was most ardent, and the extent of his promise excessive; yet one might see that the power latent in him was not inconsiderable, or rather the issue of the events themselves would convince one of this. One point however must be considered. Our Saviour Christ, speaking now in one way and now in another of His ascension into heaven, says that Peter will not follow Him now, but will follow Him hereafter; as soon, namely, as his apostolate is fulfilled, and when the fit season has come to summon the bodies of the saints to the city above: whereas Peter himself protests that he is now ready even to risk his life, going as it were by a different way, and not coming by a direct course to the meaning of the words. And I think his language must imply this: failing as yet to attach to what has been spoken by Christ its exact signification, he believes that the Lord intends possibly to pass over to some of the wilder villages in Judaea, or even to visit foreign peoples, who will, after carefully listening, so violently dissent from the words which He will be likely to speak, that the daring plots of the Pharisees will seem feeble compared with the base designs of the other Jews, and the madness inherent in them will be shown to be of the very mildest type. For this reason he declares that he will suffer nothing to interfere with his following Christ: he does not absolutely promise to die, but says that if the need should arise he will not shrink from death. Now there is a passage exactly similar to this in the previous part of this book, and I will proceed to tell you where it occurs.

At one time Christ was sojourning among the Galilaeans to avoid the fury of the Jews, their ungovernable temper, and their unbridled insolence in speech; and great was the wonder excited in those quarters by His marvellous deeds. But when the brother of Mary and Martha had died, I mean of course Lazarus, He as God knew of it, and forthwith said to His disciples: Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep, but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. Hereupon the disciples affectionately reply: The Jews were but now seeking to stone Thee; and goest Thou thither again? And when Christ is on the point of starting, and urgently tells them that He must certainly return to the country of the Jews, Thomas, who is called Didymus, said unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with Him. I believe that Peter's object in speaking is pregnant with some similar idea. For he thinks, perhaps, as I said just now, that Jesus is on the eve of departing to preach somewhere else among people at whose hands He will be exposed to danger. Therefore he himself also, in his uncontrollable affection for Christ, declares that his zeal now to defend his Master will be invincible and irresistible, meaning that there is nothing left in the world that is strong enough to check his devotion, now that he has convinced himself that he must follow Christ, seeing that he is ready and willing even to die in his Master's cause.  

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