Devotional Thoughts for April 21, 2013, by Rev. Dr. Alexander J. Kurien
- April 21, 2013/Third Sunday After Resurrection
The Price of Loving Jesus
(St. John 21:15-19)
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien
We continue our look at the appearances of the risen Lord to his disciples during these 40 days between his resurrection and final ascension into heaven. Now Jesus prepares to ask Peter a repeated question that calls for his response. This is what had been called �the most celebrated exchange of questions and answers in the entire Bible�. To say, �God is love� (1 John 4:16) is not the meaning of this verse, because God is much more than love. He is holiness, wisdom, power and faithfulness, to name a few characteristics. God�s love will move in to make our broken lives whole, but will not shelter us from trouble and suffering. God�s love in fact will thrust us out into a world of suffering. The protection God promises in the Psalms, for example, is the keeping of us in his love. Loving God and knowing a God of love can be very costly.
Remembering our failures (vs. 15-17) - A relationship of love and trust requires work. If there has been a breach of that trust and a violation of that love, there must be reconciliation and restoration. For a marriage relationship, the hardest yet most important words are �I�m sorry,� or �I was wrong,� words that are not easy for us to say but have been necessary throughout our years of marriage. Simon Peter had never lost the love of Jesus or his love for Jesus. Yet Simon Peter was becoming painfully aware of his sinful failure of having denied the Lord three times. First there is the charcoal fire that is a vivid reminder of the same kind of fire where he was warming himself when confronted by the young girl (John 18:18). The crucified and risen Lord, who had died to forgive Peter�s sins as well as ours, met the broken-hearted disciple and offered his complete forgiveness. Our sins and failures must be acknowledged in order for there to be a free and joyful spirit for fellowship and ministry.
Jesus addressed Simon Peter, as simply �Simon�. Jesus reverted to his old name before Jesus gave him his new name, Cephas/Peter, which means �rock� (St. John 1:42). Peter had acted as anything but a rock. He had been weak and unstable, and Jesus needed to restore him in order for him to become a solid rock in faith and service. Jesus asked him if he loved him more than these, probably meaning, �Do you love me more than these other disciples do, like you said you did?� Peter in response replied with uncharacteristic humility and reticence, �Yes, Lord�you know that I love you.� By now Peter understood that he had failed to uphold his pledges to the Lord, and was reluctant to make any bold declarations. Yet he understood that Jesus knew his heart, and realized that he loved Jesus. Jesus was impressing on Peter�s mind and heart that to be reinstated was to be forgiven and restored and to be given a second chance. He was in the process of a new beginning by which he would become useful in the kingdom of God.
Loving Jesus, Simon was learning, was costly. He would need to have an ongoing sense of repentance, and the realization of his failure and broken-ness and weakness before God. God uses broken people who never forget the ongoing need for grace and forgiveness and who are continually repentant before God. In those three years of Jesus� earthly ministry, Simon Peter never liked the idea that his Lord would face a cross. After his magnificent confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, Simon immediately reacted when Jesus spoke of his approaching cross. ��Never, Lord!� he said. �This shall never happen to you!� Jesus turned and said to Peter, �Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men�� (St. Matthew 16:22-23). Peter had to learn that the cross was necessary for Jesus, for him to be our Savior. And then, he was to learn what Jesus meant about the cross each one of us must carry, the cross of repentance, self-denial, weakness and suffering (St. Matthew 16:24-25). We are useful in Christ�s service only to the extent that we take the way of the cross. Then, with the cross there comes the joy of knowing we are loved by Jesus, who uses us despite our failings and weaknesses. We who love Jesus must pay this price of remembering our failures.
Renewing our pledge (vs. 15-17) -- As a Jew growing up, Simon learned the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4: �Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your strength.� And now Peter knew Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God� (St. Matthew 16:16). He no doubt endorsed the confession Thomas made when he saw the risen Lord: �My Lord and my God!� (St. John 20:28). However, Peter had denied the Lord, after having been so self-confident. However, Jesus visited with him and full forgiveness and restoration was granted. However, no longer could Peter trust in his resolve to demonstrate loyalty and love. He would now be less certain of himself and more dependent on Jesus. Now that he had realized the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he was prepared to love Jesus as his risen God and Savior. However, how was he to love Jesus, now that Jesus would be departing and returning to the Father in glory? Jesus said that Simon would express his love for Jesus by feeding his lambs and taking care of his sheep. By now Simon Peter was familiar with this analogy. Jesus had declared himself the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep. In addition, he would have many more sheep that would hear his voice and follow him. (St. John 10:11).
Peter came to realize this calling to love Jesus by loving his sheep and by feeding and caring for them as an elder/overseer (1 Peter 5:1-4). As Jesus made clear in one of his judgment passages, we who are being saved are God�s sheep (St. Matthew 25:31-46). In addition, if we are truly God�s sheep who love him, we will find ourselves quite naturally and unwittingly loving Jesus by loving his sheep. We will find ourselves feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. In addition, the failure to express such love in such tangible ways will be evidence against us on the Day of Judgment. As God�s children, we are both his sheep and are called to become shepherds as well.
Mother Teresa (1910-1997) spoke often of loving Jesus by loving and caring for the suffering and dying people on the streets of Calcutta. I wonder how often we realize the opportunities God gives us every day to love him by loving people, by ministering his grace and love, in simple and caring ways? If we love him, we will feed his sheep and take care of his lambs. The Great Commandment is to love God with all our being and connected inextricably with it is the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (St. Mark 12:28-33). However, he does love us and he wants us to show his love by our loving his sheep.
Realizing the price (verses 18 & 19) - relationships do not come cheaply. Ruth said to her mother-in-law, Naomi, �Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die�May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me� (Ruth 1:16-17). It seems that after Jesus had spoken these words of reinstatement to Peter. Jesus spoke to Peter about his life ahead of following him as Lord. Even as Simon and the other disciples had followed Jesus during his three-year earthly ministry, so now they must continue to follow him after his return to heaven�s glory. They would follow him by means of the Holy Spirit within them. He would be their guide, as they would continue the ministry he had begun to do (Acts 1:1). In addition, ours too is the price of following Jesus as Lord and of letting him live his life in us and as us.
And the life of following Jesus is not an easy one, but requires that we live with the spirit of the disciplines and that we walk in step with the Spirit, which means the producing and displaying of the fruit of the Spirit in and through our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). In addition, the life of following Jesus is never sporadic, but requires our patience and perseverance. Spiritual growth is simply a process that takes time and commitment, on God�s part as well as ours. God is always patiently at work in us to bring about his desired results for our character and usefulness in his kingdom.
Jesus began to share with Peter that the price of following would be to follow unto death. Jesus spoke of the binding of Peter�s hands, which would be stretched out on a crossbeam. Church traditions say that Simon Peter was himself crucified about the year AD 69 or 70 in Rome. The demand of following Jesus includes the price of following Jesus where we do not want to go. The life of discipleship is one of greatest joy, meaning and fulfillment, yet it is also one of submitting to the Father�s will, which includes the way of difficulty and suffering, which is never our human choice.
Therefore, we too learn obedience, grow in faith, and grace when we submit to the Father�s will for us, which always includes a cross. The Father�s will is not for our unmitigated pleasure and smooth sailing. His will is that we seek his grace that comes in extra measure during times of difficulty. In addition, we all are called to take up our cross of spiritual discipline and self-denial and to enter into the narrative of the cross. When we suffer injustice and mistreatment, as Peter himself wrote, then we should actually rejoice, �We participate in the sufferings of Christ.� Peter also adds that when we suffer injustice as did Christ, we are blessed, �for the Spirit of glory and of God� rests upon us (1 Peter 4:13-14). Paul also knew that the only way to enter into the deepest level of knowing Christ, and into the fullness of his love, was through �the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings and becoming like him in his death� (Philippians 3:10).
Therefore, since the moment of this word from Jesus about his final moment of witness, when he would witness by his death, Peter was aware that the final price of following Jesus would be going where he would not want to go. However, he would go with Jesus, in the steps of Jesus, and even with the joy and grace of the Lord Jesus. Even now you may find yourself in a place or position in which you do not delight. You are saying to yourself, �I don�t want to be here. I did not want to come here, to this country, to this job, to this ministry or personal or family situation. This is not what I had in mind for myself.� Yet, the point is, you are where you are by the sovereign grace of God. You may have made wrong decisions in the past, and maybe you did not pray about your job or your last assignment. Yet, God is sovereign even over our bad choices and disobedience. In addition, he is always there to once again take over our lives and bring about his good purposes, even though we may have disobeyed. Did not Simon Peter deny his Lord? Yet, the risen Lord forgave him and was willing to use him, and lead him in the way of the cross. In addition, his life would not be one of ease, and would even end in a martyr�s death. He would have to relinquish his personal wants, desires, and ambitions, as we must as well. In addition, he would find his joy, not in the fulfillment of his personal wants and ambitions, but in the will of God. Like his fellow apostle, Paul, Peter would learn to trust and love God through the way of death to self and the fellowship of sharing in Christ�s sufferings. In a love relationship with Jesus, there is the price of following Jesus where we do not want to go, yet it is all for the glory of God.
The demands of a relationship with Jesus Christ are all the way until the end, but they end in everlasting glory. This relationship of loving and serving Jesus is the one with everlasting consequences and rewards. May our Christ Jesus continue to strengthen us to fulfill His Will to serve Him unconditionally through His everlasting love. Amen!