Saturday, April 09, 2016

April 10, Easter 3, The Rehabilitation of Simon Peter

Acts 9::1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

This is the story of the rehabilitation of Simon Peter. It’s two weeks after the resurrection, but how the disciples should respond to this great, new amazing fact they do not know.

So Peter goes back to what he does know. Except he can’t catch any fish. Then, when Peter recognizes Jesus, he acts all guilty and confused. He covers his nakedness, and he jumps into the water with his clothes on, and then he brings the fish in all by himself, which is over-compensation. Peter, stop trying so hard.

That breakfast on the beach will have been lovely for the six other disciples, but for Peter it will have been very uncomfortable. That charcoal fire, and the smell of it, the same smell as seventeen days ago, the night before Jesus died, when Peter stood at the charcoal fire outside the palace of the high priest, and there three times denied his Lord.

Peter hadn’t intended to deny him; at first he was just trying to be a secret agent man, hiding his own identity. Give this to him, at least he was there, while the other disciples didn’t even dare follow Jesus. But then when his cover wasn’t working, he got scared, and his further denials stemmed from fear. And then the rooster crowed and judged him.

Why is Jesus so hard on Simon Peter? Why does he make him smell the charcoal fire of his guilt and shame? Why doesn’t he discuss the denial with Peter at a rational level, why does he go through his nose and under his brain? Is it because of the nature of his guilt, that it’s emotional? Peter is not guilty any more in terms of God, because Jesus has forgiven him. But even though it’s all forgiven it’s like Jesus wants to push him back into it. It’s not for forgiveness, it’s for rehabilitation. It’s for reconstruction. And for that to happen you have to face your failure and go right through it.

“Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” It would have been nicer if Jesus had just asked it once, and let Peter answer once, and have been satisfied. But Jesus drives it in, three times, until it hurts. I’ve told you before, just because Jesus loves you that doesn’t mean he won’t hurt your feelings!

Repeatedly Peter has to answer.
Yes, in my misery I love you.
Yes, in my shame I love you.
I wanted to love you in my success, but I love you in my failure.
I wanted to love you in my loyalty, but I love you in my denial.

Peter is feeling the depths of his own miserable love. It’s painful but Jesus is doing him a favor, he’s opening up his capacity for love, a capacity he did not know he had. You yourself have this capacity, but you cannot expand your love into your full capacity except by entering it through your suffering and even your misery.

Then Jesus adds insult to injury by telling Peter how he will grow old and weak, and how he will die. What a strange ending for the Gospel of John, with the prediction that Peter must die. Jesus predicts this powerful disciple will end his life in weakness, and that this natural leader will be led around, on a leash, like an animal. Now Peter’s got nothing left, not even his pride.

Do you see what Jesus is up to? It’s not only Peter’s shame that has been troubling him, it’s also his pride. I don’t know which is worse, which is harder to deal with, maybe they’re two sides of the same coin, but for Peter to be free of his shame he also has to be free of his pride. Jesus is hard on him, and Peter begins to die his death already here. But it’s a gift that Jesus gives him, for the dying-away of the old self has to happen for the new self to come-to-life. That’s true repentance, that’s true conversion, that’s rehabilitation.

As Peter fully feels his denial, as he fully feels his failure, as he enters again his guilt and shame, Jesus is already bringing him out of it. “I entrust you with my sheep. I give you charge of my lambs. I put my flock in your care. I trust you. I have work for you to do. I want you to take over for me in my absence. As far as I’m concerned, we are reconciled. Follow me.”

“I know you followed me, after my arrest, seventeen days ago, you followed me to the palace of the high priest, but that was in your strength and pride, and so you followed me in secret. But now you have nothing left to lose. So you can follow me openly. And you do not have to try so hard. You don’t have to prove anything, you don’t have to defend anything, you don’t have to conquer anything, you don’t have to win anything. You don’t have to win the world for Christ. I have already won the world. Just start working out of the love that I have given you.

“Do you love me?” How difficult loving is. That part in your life where you love is where you experience the most frustration and failure and hurt. Love is what you want the most and what you are least successful at. Jesus did not ask, “Peter, do you believe in me?” Belief is not the goal, it is the means, loving is the goal. Loving is the hardest, it’s where you are most wounded, and where you’re most at fault. It’s where our pride and shame do us most damage, and get most in the way.

And yet you certainly you do have the capacity for God’s love. You, right now, already you have the capacity, even in your weakness and your failures and your unbelief. Your capacity is distinct and individual, as will be the way that you express God’s love, but you do have the capacity. Let me encourage you, this promise is more trustworthy than your internal doubts and whisperings.

But yet you are called, as a Christian, not just to love, but to convert your love. That’s my first take-home. You are called to not just love but to convert your love. Everybody loves, everybody wants to love, but you can love with converting love, love that has scars on it and holes in it and wounds on it, love passes through your misery and suffering. God converts your love by various means. But all of them involve some suffering. Not the suffering of punishment, but the pain of your own self and the persistent odor of your shame and guilt. God is not afraid to hurt your feelings. But if you keep believing in that suffering, God uses it to convert your love.

My second take-home is simply the reminder that you must love yourself, as God loves you. And I mean not just your good self or your best self but your shameful self, your guilty self. You love yourself with that love of God for you. And in loving yourself with God’s love, you practice loving other people too and you can suffer even them. For you to be rehabilitated as a human being is to be your own vessel of God’s love and your own peculiar instrument of the love of God.

Copyright © 2016, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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