A reflection on John 21: 15-19
Do you pray with the Scriptures? When you read them, do you allow a word or an scene from the passage to speak to you in your heart and draw out from you a prayer? It is essential for each of us enter into prayer in this way. Yet, it is a direction that many “voices” – from the world, and from your own ego – will dissuade you from; because it will reveal your idols, your weaknesses. The Lord seeks to lead us out of those “Egypts” in each one of our souls. To do so demands much; it demands a love that endures all things, hopes all things and to be completely truthful, I do not have that love yet. That is important for me to understand, not for me to despair but so that I can live in His truth, endure in His light and be drawn up into a more perfect love by following His voice.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus 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.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus 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.” John 21: 15-19
Simon, son of John, do you love me?
I need to live in His truth, I need to know who I am and who I am called to be in His truth. I need it desperately, and our whole culture is dying for lack of this truth. In this Gospel, through the questions of Jesus, Peter is taken back into the bitter memory of his betrayal of the Lord, in order to receive the profound, unfathomable mercy of Jesus, and to be drawn up into His perfect love. What courage this takes! We, who are so easily offended, we, who so often confess our failings in a self-justifying context, are also taken through the drama of the Lord’s threefold questioning of Peter. Three times he questions Peter’s love for Him, mirroring the three times that Peter denied Him. The anguish of Peter by the third round is palpable. I can understand this, it can be agonizing to allow Christ to plumb the depths of our own individual depravity. Especially in this hyper-sentimentalized culture, where there is no incentive to grow in a deeper more perfect love, to have cowardice and unwillingness to suffer in order to grow in love revealed in the unflinching light of His gaze is terrifying. Who really wants to face their own spiritual impotency? Yet, to grow in His perfect love is to drive out fear (1 Jn, 4:18), because above all we are afraid of our own ultimate futility – our own spiritual impotency. Christ is the only possible answer to that fear. Moreover, when Peter submitted to Our Lord’s probing and tending to the wounds of his darkest failure, we are shown that his little love was enough for Jesus, who would transform that little love into perfect love. And then we see how much potency in the Spirit is released!
We must obey God rather than men!
Perfect love does drive out fear! Look at how Peter and the apostles rejoice at the sufferings and worldly dishonor they receive on account of the Lord! (Acts 5:41) How can I be released from the bonds of my spiritual impotency? How can I be freed the dark hidden wounds in my soul? These wounds may not always be obvious, but they have a subtle control over my love, they keep me in bondage. Again, I am not speaking of the sentimental love of our time, but the passionate, agape love of God. The love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:7) This is the love that our fears would block us from entering into. This is the love that Christ will so gently draw you into, if you, like Peter, allow His Spirit to enter into your darkest wounds and heal them. And not just heal them, but as we see in Peter, transform them! His cowardice, in the power of this love, is lifted up to courage. The Fisherman from Galilee will endure humiliation and martyrdom for Christ and His Church. “I will praise you Lord…You changed my mourning into dancing!” Psalm 30 2;12
Worthy is the Lamb!
It seems a little unbelievable. In this age of stunted, materialistic love, we may be a bit jaded in our hope that we could encounter Christ so intimately from reading the words of Scripture. We may be afraid to enter into the contemplative prayer that will bring us to Christ in this profound and personal way. Do it anyway. Put aside your fears, suspend you disbelief. When you read the Gospel, when you hear it proclaimed at Mass, place yourself in the readings in your imagination. Yes, there may be detracting voices -inner voices, worldly voices- that will hurl all sorts of accusations and distractions at you. Yes, it may take time to build up an ability to endure in this type of prayer. Yes, you may have to let go of the insipid, sentimentalized one-dimensional Jesus that is too often presented to us; this Jesus inoculates us against the One who is the worthy Lamb of God, in whose presence all creation trembles and cries out to in adoration. (Rev 5: 11-14) Persist! And be ready, because He will surprise you. Like He did for Peter, Jesus will ever so gently direct you to true repentance and deep healing. He will take your breath away and you will begin to let the Spirit breath through you.
You brought my soul up from Sheol
My own experience in this type of prayer is an example of how important it is to persist through those false voices. For many years in prayer I have entered into the scene of the sinful woman
we read of in Luke’s gospel. In this prayer I am that women attempting to approach the Lord, but the Pharisees are standing in my way. They present every objection imaginable to discourage me from persisting to see the Lord. They accuse me of my own unworthiness and some of their accusations are devastatingly accurate
. The worst one is: “Just who do you think you are!
” And they go on: “You do not belong here, you never will.” “You do not need Him as much as others do, how presumptuous of you!” “He will just send you away.” It has really taken me years to get through that gauntlet. Even when I did persist and I fell at His feet, I could not look at Him, I was too afraid. And in my day to day life as well, I can tell you that this fear, fundamentally a fear of rejection, has stopped me from doing many, many things that I ought to have done. But, one day I did look up at Him. And He looked at me with eyes that were strong and serious, and said “ Well, who do you think you are?”
Wow! Those words from Him seemed to be my worst fear coming true, but the Lord’s eyes never wavered, and drew from me the answer “I am yours.” And He responds, “ You did not choose Me, I choose you: Follow me.”
Take a moment to enter into this Gospel (or whatever scene you are drawn to). What would He ask you? In moments of prayer, much like Saint Peter’s encounter with the Lord , Jesus will gently draw you to look at yourself with unflinching honesty, but bathed in His light you begin to receive the courage, the power to be so much more than forgiven: to be transformed, to be potent and fruitful in His Spirit. Follow Him!