Jesus said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the 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.’ (John 21:17; Simon is also known as Peter (‘Rock’))
I once was in desperate need of making a decision and, almost without control, found myself marching to a small chapel. Inside, possessed with an agency I still marvel at, I asked myself what story of the Gospels most sounded like what I needed to hear. It was a question of pure intuition. One the whim of some kind of autopilot, I turned to the last chapter in John, the chapter where Peter has decided that he is returning to fishing and he goes, together with six others who follow him even if he may have wished they weren’t.
After a night of fishing – or, to be clear, a night of unsuccessful fishing – a sharp-eyed disciple spots someone on the shore and mentions to Peter that it is Jesus. Peter, who is stripped, puts his clothes on and jumps into the sea, a strange reversal of the usual order of thing. But, it’s also understandable. This is the man who had stood around a charcoal fire and told bare-faced lies. He may have been reluctant to let such exposure be mirrored in his bare-arsed body. Gone, too, is the interest in waterwalking. Miracle isn’t the purpose any more; he now needs something much more important. The breakfast – for that is what it ends up being – is mostly eaten in silence. Afterwards, Jesus, standing around a charcoal fire that he seems to have kindled himself, asks three questions about love. After he asks the third time whether Peter loves him, Peter says, ‘Lord, you know everything.’ I don’t read this as a declaration of omniscience. I think he’s saying, ‘I know you know I’ve [stuffed] it up.’ And I think Jesus is saying, ‘Alleluia.’
So anyway, there I was, in a haze, and I turned to this text. I was twenty and it felt like I had to make big decisions. I turned to this story and I felt like it read me. Not because any particular similitude was implied, but because I heard an echo of failure, an echo of confusion and an echo of accompaniment. For twenty years, I’ve read this story on my birthday. We are old friends, now, me and this story, each growing and each changing. It means something different to me now than it did then, but I think it’s a text I’ll read until I end.
When I was younger, I thought this text meant I was going to become a priest. Then everything happened and I’ve begun to live with the text, rather than asking the text to live for me. I still read the story every year on my birthday. Ω
Ask yourself what story of the Gospels sounds most like what you need to hear. Read the story slowly, several times through. What do you notice? What echoes do you hear? Could this story one day become an old friend?
From Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter. Finding a home in the world. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015, p 242-243. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.
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