Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” (John 13:36)
Only two words in Latin. That language grabs the thought better than English does. It has become a famous phrase. Books have been written about it. A movie has been made with this as the title. “Quo vadis?” “Where are you going?” The words come from the Latin translation of the Bible. Latin was the official language of the Roman empire. Jesus of Nazareth was sentenced to death by a Roman governor, and nailed to the cross by Roman soldiers. Roman sentries guarded his tomb.
Tradition tells a story of Saint Peter, late in life, trying to escape from Rome where he is in great danger. As he is running away, he supposedly encounters Jesus walking into the city carrying a cross. Surprised, Peter asks him, “Quo vadis?” Jesus answers, “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again.” Ashamed, the story has Peter returning to Rome, where he is arrested as follower of Jesus—and crucified, at his own request, upside down. That story may not be true, but Peter did once ask Jesus, “Where are you going? Saint John was there when Peter asked the question (probably in Hebrew) in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had just told the disciples, “I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”
So, Peter’s question was perfectly natural: “Lord, where are you going? “Quo vadis?” Jesus’ answer was mysterious: “Where am I going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later?” What did he mean? Was he talking about his upcoming suffering and death? Was he talking about going back to heaven? Could he have been referring to both?
We don’t know if Peter was crucified upside down. But Jesus did say that Peter would be killed because of this faith. The once-coward Peter had become brave once more. He would die brave in the faith. He would not just follow Jesus to execution. He would follow him also into glory.
As followers of this same Jesus, it is not out of line for us to ask him, “Quo vadis?” “Where are you going?” We would like to know what is ahead in our life as we follow him.
As with Peter, he does not give us details. He has warned us, however, that we have a dangerous enemy, and we should expect trouble and sorrow on our path of life. But we already know where he will finally lead us, don’t we? Don’t we sing, “Heaven is my home?”
So, the next time someone asks us, “Quo vadis?” “Where are you going?” we can answer: “Home, with Jesus.” “I’m going home!”
We pray the words of the hymn:
I’m but a stranger here; Heaven is my home. Earth is a desert drear; Heaven is my home. Danger and sorrow stand Round me on every hand. Heaven is my fatherland; Heaven is my home.
There at my Savior’s side—Heaven is my home—I shall be glorified; Heaven is my home. There are the good and blest, Those I love most and best, And there I, too, shall rest; Heaven is my home. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida. Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military