Friday, May 25, 2012

Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” - C.S. Lewis

Gospel Text: John 21:15-19
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
He said to him the third time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
"Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go."
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

G. K. Chesterton wrote somewhere: “If you are to build a perfect society, start with imperfect people.” He might have gotten this insight from today’s Gospel passage. The resurrected Jesus gently but forcefully reminds Peter, on whom he will build his church, of his threefold denial just a few days earlier. And yet, after each reminder, he entrusts to Peter the responsibility of tending Jesus’ own flock.

We wouldn’t have done it that way. Instead, we would have been more inclined to say: “Peter proved himself unworthy; give the post to somebody else.” – thinking of the job as recognition or reward. If we needed to be reminded yet again, scripture tells us “God’s thoughts are not your thoughts, God’s ways are not your ways”.

Peter has to let go – let go of his protestations of loyalty, of his “I can do it” confidence. That’s possible only when it becomes inescapably clear to him that he really can’t do it. Peter must serve Jesus’ flock out of the full, painful awareness of his own incapacity. The strength he will need comes from Jesus, not from himself. And he must always remember that the flock is not his. “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep”. There is only one shepherd – Jesus.

Most of us are not members of the clerical establishment, to whom this passage would seem most pointedly directed. But in a less formal sense, these words apply to all of us. We are all commissioned to serve other members of the flock, and we can do so not from our own strength but from God’s life in us. Recognition of our incapacity and sinfulness is a necessary first step for us, just as it was for Peter. But what an incredible blessing it is to know that we are commissioned despite our failures.

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