Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Towards or Away From Suffering?: The Legend of Quo Vadis

A guest post by Garrett East

I first encountered the legend of Quo Vadis while reading The Cross In Our Context by Douglass John Hall. It is a story that comes from a 2nd century apocryphal document called The Acts of Peter. I wish it made it into our Bibles. I think it provides a vision for the Christian life better than almost anything I have read. Here is how the story goes:

Peter is walking along the Appian Way having just escaped being crucified in Rome. Behind him smoke is rising from Rome where Christians are being crucified and burned alive by Nero. As I understand the story, Peter is not walking away out of fear or cowardice, but because he has been convinced by the Christians in the city that he is too important to the Christian movement to allow himself to be killed in Rome. He must get out and continue to lead the church elsewhere.

As he is walking, though, he has a vision of Jesus walking past him towards Rome carrying a cross over his shoulder. Peter asks him, Quo vadis, domine? “Where are you going, Lord?”

Jesus responds, “To Rome, to be crucified again.”

Hearing this, Peter turns and follows Jesus back into Rome where the legend says he is crucified upside down.

What would it look like for Christians to embrace this story as paradigmatic for the church's mission in the world? Maybe we would be people defined by walking towards the suffering of the world, rather than away from it. Maybe we would be people who, rather than asking where we should go, would continually ask the question, Quo vadis, domine? Where are you going, Lord? And we might then respond to Jesus by following him into the places he is going. Maybe we would be people who recognize that the cross is not a loss, but a victory; that self-giving rather than self-preservation is the way of Christ; and that sometimes, being with people in their suffering is more important than being for them.

[Image courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art.]

1 comment:

  1. I'd heard of the Quo Vadis story before, but hadn't really known what it is what about. Thanks for this reflection..I think I want to go read the Acts of Peter now.

    I think this message is especially important for those of us who are in positions of privilege, either because of social location in society more generally or because of location within the Church itself (like Peter).