1st Reading: Acts 5:27b-32. 40b-41; Psalm: 30. R. v. 2a; 2nd Reading: Rev 5:11-14; Gospel: Jn 21:1-19
ADOPTING PETER’S SPIRITUAL RESILIENCE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
We may have come across people who felt like taking their own life because they thought they are not good enough? Some are so disappointed and broken by the experiences of life and see no reason to hang in there? When we hear of people who gave up on life and think suicide, it was not because God destined it so, but perhaps because such people have not come to accept the fact that there are several dots of imperfection in human actions and in life generally. Also, when we lose that consciousness of our God who is very much aware of our imperfections and loves us still, we can be tempted to think that life revolves around us only, and this can be suicidal. Judas fell prey to this thought.
Peter’s first personal encounter with Jesus was at the Sea of Galilee (Lk 5:1-11). He toiled all night and caught nothing but at the command of Jesus, he hauled a great amount of fish. Seeing this miracle, Peter openly declared his imperfection before Jesus. “Depart from me Lord” he said, “for I am a sinful man.” (Lk 5:8). Jesus disregarded his imperfection and said to him “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” (Lk 5:10). After this, he left everything and followed Jesus.
When the death of Jesus was imminent, he made a prediction of his arrest, stating that all of his apostles would desert him. Peter pledged his commitment to Jesus, promising that even if others forsook him, he would not (Mt 26:33). When Jesus was eventually arrested, Peter failed to keep his commitment and denied Jesus three times beside a charcoal fire where he was warming himself (Jn 18:15-18). According to Luke’s account, when this happened, “Jesus turned and looked at Peter.” (Lk 22:61). Peter was heartbroken and wept bitterly.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his apostles on different occasions. In one of these occasions which happen to be the gospel of today, he appeared to them at the Sea of Tiberias where they went fishing. The same experience Peter had when the Lord first called him repeated itself. Peter, together with the other apostles toiled all night and caught nothing. But at the Lord’s command, they hauled a huge amount of fish. At this, they recognise it was the Lord. And Peter sprang into the sea and hurried towards Jesus.
While Peter sat with Jesus before a charcoal fire, a similar scene where he denied Jesus; for each of Peter’s three denials, Jesus looked at him in the eye and gave him three opportunities to make an avowal of commitment when he asked him “Do you love me?” To all three questions, Peter answered in the affirmative. From these encounter of Peter, we see the unconditional love of Jesus in action. Jesus was like saying to Peter “When I first called you, you started so well but felt disappointed after denying me three times. Now, not minding your weaknesses, I am calling you again. Get up and recommit yourself to me through love.
We all need to realise that God is aware of our weaknesses and imperfections and he accommodates us regardless. Reading the English translation of this conversation between Jesus and Peter which was originally written in Greek, it may appear that Jesus used the same word for “love” in the question “Do you love me” which he asked Peter three times. But when we read the original Greek text of this passage, we would discover that there are two Greek words used for love in this interlocution. The first is “Agape” which is the highest love (the unconditional love). And the second is “Phileo” which is the human affection or the friendship kind of love.
So, in the first and second questions, Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me with the highest kind of love?” (Agapas me?). But Peter replied on those two occasions: “I love you like a friend” (Philo se). The third time, Jesus came down to Peter’s level of love and asked “Do you love me like a friend?” (Phileis me?). And Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you like a friend (Philo se).
Can we see that Peter sincerely acknowledged his imperfect kind of love? He was not tempted to answer otherwise to please Jesus when the question came three times. He remained sincere. In fact, he did this from the very beginning when he told Jesus to depart from him for he was a sinful man. Jesus accepted him for his kind of love and entrusted his flock to him. Peter would therefore shepherd the flock of Christ with commitment, care and love, accepting in them the imperfection he saw in himself.
There are some people who have refused to accept the imperfection in them even when God acknowledges it. Are we in this category? Some years back, a man walked up to me, distressed and traumatised. The very first statement he made shocked me. He said “Fr, I killed my family and I have not forgiven myself ever since.” This sad event of his life happened two years prior to this very encounter I had with him. He narrated how he dozed off at the wheel which eventually led to a fatal accident that claimed the lives of his pregnant wife and little daughter. He felt he killed them. He felt he didn’t rest well before the journey.
Just like me, many of us would agree that it is not easy to overcome the trauma of such an unfortunate incident. But to hold the view that he killed his family was for me, an unfair judgment on himself. This could still have happened if he rested well before the journey or if he was extremely careful while driving. Like my aunt once told me, “When you drive, remember you do not drive for yourself only, you drive also for the other road users.” I understood this to mean that while I drive, I should be conscious of the carelessness of other road users. In life, we may be careful at times but the carelessness of others or some unforeseen occurrences can affect us.
What is that story of our life that has left us shattered, depressed and downcast? Do we think we had the power to have prevented them from happening? Maybe yes. But that’s not always the case. Those traumatic experiences could be things that happened not because we planned them but because our imperfections got the better part of us. We can’t keep living in guilt and pain when we can offer ourselves another chance to live fully again. I say this because in all our disappointments, pain, and distress, God forgives us. But the problem is that we are the ones who have refused to forgive ourselves.
Jesus, just like he did to Peter, offers us chance upon chance to live fully not minding our past. And just like Peter, we can forgive ourselves and move on positively with life than being stuck in the past and living in pain and depression. Know this: God is aware of our inadequacies, and he still loves and believes in us. So if God has not given up on us, why should we give up on ourselves? We can leverage on this, stand up again and begin to live fully.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for the spiritual resilience to rise up again and follow you when we fall. Amen