Saturday, 9 April 2016

Restoration Man (John 21)

Judas and Peter. The two big failures over the time of Holy Week.

I suppose you could add Pilate to that. The Roman governor going against what he knew was right, bowing to the threat of the Jerusalem mob, and letting them decide who should and shouldn't be crucified. But we don't follow his story as it works out. Unlike Judas and Peter. We follow their different trajectories through the horror and what lays beyond.

Judas realises the magnitude of what he's done - sold his Saviour for the equivalent of three month's wages. That's not a wage big enough to equate to selling the saviour of the world. He throws the money down and runs off to kill himself. I don't believe he had to do it. But I guess he thought he was so far beyond forgiveness there was nothing else to do - literally couldn't live with himself.

Peter isn't a betrayer. He's a deserter. Surely, most of the male disciples were. They all leg it into the undergrowth in the garden of Gethsemane. And even at the cross, we're told, Jesus was accompanied only by his mother, the women, and St John.

Peter's desertion though is compounded by his position and his own declarations. Didn't he claim that, though everyone else deserted Jesus, he wouldn't? And - crueller irony - didn't Jesus give him his second name - Peter - the Rock?

Easy to forget that - Peter's very name is accusing him. Unlike us, the French have retained the association of the personal name with the object. At the great standing stone alignments at Carnac in Brittany, I wondered why it was that the guidebook kept referring to all these "Pierres" around  the place. And some of them apparently had arrived 6,000 years ago. Big, massive lumps - the tallest as high as the  largest stones at Stonehenge. In French, "Pierre". In Latin, " petros" - "Peter the Rock-man." The one to build a church on. Tough, tall, durable. When you stand tall, the fall will be greater.
"Oi! Pierre!" 
By Snjeschok - eigene Aufnahme von Snjeschok mit Ricoh Caplio G4, CC BY-SA 3.0

Jesus has appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room twice since the Resurrection. Once to say peace to them. Once to prove himself to Thomas. And now, by the Sea, with the sizzle of fish and the smell of baked bread, to prove he ain't just a ghost. He's bringing back to mind those great things that happened - what must seem like an eternity ago, after all they've been through. The bread and fish with the, 5,000. That first remarkable haul of fish, when this all started. And also the quiet moments aside, when he would have been closest to his nearest friends - as when they escaped on a boat and crossed the sea, for some peace, and quiet fellowship.

Peter's got unfinished business. He has let his Lord down. Up to now, they've all been in the reunited group. But now Jesus is taking him away, somewhere quiet.

It must be, in a very major way, like being hauled off to the headmaster's study or the boss's office.

What is Peter expecting? A right dressing down for cowardice? Being replaced as leader by John? He seems to worry about John's place compared to his own.

"Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"

A natural and reasonable question. After that desertion - has Simon just been in it for the fame and free fish and wine? And so he answers. Yes of course.

A second time - "do you love me?"

Well, it's been a long couple of weeks. And it would have been easy to say something glib once. Yes, of course Lord.

A third time he's asked the question. And Simon Peter is so hurt. Because it's like Jesus doesn't believe in him. And he replies again - you know all things. You know I love you.

This isn't just an assertion of Peter's heart. It's also a declaration of Jesus's divinity. Because who knows all things? And the number three is important. It's the reversal of Peter's three denials of Jesus when he sneaked into the courtyard of the high priest's house. Three times they asked if he was with Jesus - three times he said "no". Now three times Jesus asks if he loves him, and Peter says "yes".

Peter has discovered what Judas never did - the forgiving love of Jesus. The desertion, the denial is all forgotten. As Peter says he loves Jesus three times, three times Jesus gives him the instruction to look after Jesus's sheep. He's not only being forgiven - he's being totally restored.

There is no distance too far from God, no sin too awful, no crime too great, for God to forgive through Jesus. No blackness too dark that Jesus won't walk with us in it. No hole so deep that Jesus hasn't climbed down to be there. As ever, the words of Paul in Romans 8 say it better than I could.
For I am persuaded , that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present , nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Of course God wants to forgive us. God made every part of us. Made the stars that died, that produced the heavy elements that make up every part of us. Made every fingernail, every hair on our head, suffered with every scar, rejoiced in our growth when we were young, holds our hearts in God's hands every moment that the beat, breathes life into us and then receives that life back.

If Jesus forgives Peter like that - forgives us like that - then we have a real dilemma, of course. Because we have a God who thinks anything can be forgiven, then we have to think the same way. When people behave in ways we don't think right - or just plain wrongly - we still have to forgive them. Some of us seem to think we are unforgivable. Others seem to think that we are entitled to forgiveness way beyond what other people have received. But if Jesus forgives Peter like that, it would appear I've no right to judge Burton Dasset for being an idiot, for instance. Because that would make me a better judge than Jesus.

But our God who restored Peter, sees us as we all are. Really good at getting things wrong and yet, in his eyes and through the Cross and Resurrection, completely able to to forgiven. By the one who forgives even the one who deserted him - and went beyond forgiveness to restoration. The one who forgives all our wrongs, and one day will restore all things.


  1. Funny how when a partner constantly asks; "Do you love me?" we in our milieu see it as being needy.


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