Updated: Oct 9, 2020
“Domine, quo vadis?”
1560 – 1609
The work depicts a scene featured in the apocryphal “Acts of Saint Peter”: Peter, while fleeing Rome along the ancient Via Appia, meets Christ walking in the opposite direction towards the city, carrying his cross. Peter asks him, ‘Domine, quo vadis?’ The question means ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replies, ‘Ego Romam iterum crucifigi’, which means: ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified again.’
Peter is fleeing Rome at the time of Emperor Nero's persecution. This encounter is reminiscent of Peter's denial of Jesus three times during his Passion and Crucifixion. Peter fled Rome scared that he would be executed by the Romans; here, he stands in shock as Christ passes him on the road.
Peter realises that he is on his way to making the same mistake all over again now, abandoning Jesus and his Church in a moment of danger. Peter turns around on receiving this sign from the Lord, and returns to Rome to face his own martyrdom where he asked to be crucified upside down so as to avoid comparison with Christ.
Annibale had done a preparatory study for a version of this subject by his pupil Taconi, painted on the vaulted ceiling of the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome in 1600–01. In the drawing, Christ is fully clothed and Saint Peter was kneeling. Annibale radically revised the design in this picture. In ‘Domine, quo vadis?’ Annibale portrays Christ as a muscular athlete easily carrying the Cross on his shoulder as he passes Peter, with an astonished look on his face. Christ, now nearly nude, strides vigorously towards us, pointing emphatically into our space. He turns his head to gaze at Peter, who throws up his hands in amazement so as to illustrate the emotional shock of Peter meeting Jesus.
The vertical lines of the trees and classical buildings on either side press the two figures closer together, intensifying the emotions of the glance they exchange.
Annibale made changes during the course of painting, particularly to the figure of Peter so that he now recoils dramatically from the startling vision.
The clothes, painted in primary colours of red, blue and yellow, glow against the cool greens and greys of the calm, classical landscape, which recedes into the distance.
Daylight dawns above Saint Peter’s head, underlining his realisation that he must accept his own sacrifice.
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23 But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.’”
After Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God, Jesus makes the first announcement of his passion and death. Jesus will openly speak about his forthcoming death two more times.
On this occasion the announcement is in close relationship with Peter’s confession and it represents an anti-climax of the enthusiastic expectation created after Jesus’ acknowledgment of Peter’s faith.
Structure of the text
First announcement of the Passion and Resurrection
a. Jesus and the disciples 16:21
b. Peter and Jesus 16:22-23
c. Jesus and the Disciples 16:24-28
Jesus and his Disciples
To understand how the announcement of the Passion affected the feelings of the Disciples we can read the text in the Old Testament that foreshadows the fate of the ‘Suffering Servant’ in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
Jesus has accepted the destiny of the ‘Suffering Servant’ as his own. He is not going to change this in order to overcome evil, He is going to suffer humiliation, rejection and die on the cross. This is all going to happen in Jerusalem. The place where the triumph of the Messiah was supposed happen, will be the place where Jesus will undergo his sufferings.
The “elders, the chief priests and the scribes” represent the religious authorities, the social authorities and the intellectuals. All human powers plot against Jesus with a single common purpose, to eliminate him.
Peter and Jesus
A few moments ago in the text, the Father spoke through the lips of Peter to say that Jesus is the Son of God. Now it is Peter who speaks and not the Father!
Again, just before Jesus called Peter: ‘blessed’. Now He calls him ‘Satan’.
It seems that this text takes us once again to the desert, where Jesus faced the Temptations. At that time Jesus had a dialogue with Satan and both of them quoted Scriptures although Jesus seemed not to rush into the conversation. However, now Jesus seems to see in Peter a real danger. His words are full of energy. His reaction is not as serene as it was in the desert. Peter has become a danger for Jesus, a trap.
Do we think differently from Peter? Had we been in his place would have we said anything different from him? Would we have said something like: “Thank you for going to suffer for me. Thank you, I really am very grateful and I look forward to meeting up with you when all this is over.” Would we congratulate Jesus’ determination and say how wonderful is the will of God that Jesus will be scourged, spat upon and die like a criminal?
We resemble Peter in many ways. We may still find difficulty in accepting that we are wrong or that we need salvation at all. Again, we may think that if there was a need for salvation, God could have found a less tragic way of acquiring this for humankind.
Jesus knows what the will of God is. And Jesus knows that the will of man is very different.
Jesus and his Disciples
Unlike in Mark and Luke, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus turns his eyes, not to the “crowds” or to “all”, but only to the Disciples.
Jesus offers them a choice between life and death. In the book of Deuteronomy the choice was between true religion and idolatry. In the words of Jesus the choice is between human ways or the divine will. Choosing the will of God means following Jesus in denying himself, taking up the cross and dying. The Disciples are called to accept the destiny of the ‘Suffering Servant’ as Jesus did.
Human ways may give a sense of temporary relief and apparent success but that road will end up in total and irreparable failure.
Jesus knows that the choice is hard and so He talks about salvation and the glory of the Father. In this way, He introduces the next theme in the Gospel, the Transfiguration that we will see next Sunday.
Jesus’ love never fails me
Taking up my cross daily leads to transformation.
I will not be the same person I am now.
As I am renewed in my nature, the fruits of the Spirit come in its place.
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”
The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end
Lover of my soul I want to live for You
Peter goes from being ‘blessed’ and the ‘rock’ to being called ‘Satan’ and an ‘obstacle’. Peter is ‘thinking not as God does, but as human beings do’:
· Jesus proposes a change of mind and heart to Peter and to us as well;
· He will not go back on his words has entrusted his Church to Peter;
· Through the mystery of the Cross Jesus delivers us from our self-centredness.
How is my discipleship engaging all my being?
· Jesus invites us to reassess our decisions in life;
· Self-denial is just the beginning, the joys of the Kingdom will meet us as we walk along God’s paths.
· The heaviness of the Cross will never be as burdensome as the problems we will encounter just following our own human whims.
Let us contemplate God restoring us when we fail to carry our crosses.
The Kingdom of heaven turns our world upside-down. The value system of this world no longer applies when we are directed by Gospel values in our lives.
Let us contemplate the bright destiny that God has prepared for humankind from the very beginning and for each one of us.
We can ask Jesus to bring to fulfilment in us the words the Angel said to Mary: “For nothing is impossible to God.”
 Psalm 122: 1-3: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together.”  Zac. 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Isa. 53  Lev. 19:14: “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”  Isa. 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”  Deut. 30:15-20: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”