“But I don’t want to!” My 5 year old simply didn’t want to go to school that day. She didn’t want to, and that fact alone should have released her from her obligation to attend class that day. “I don’t want to!” Imagine her surprise when her father, the mean ogre forcing her to do what she didn’t want to do, informed her that her momentary desire did not overwhelm the constant reality of her scheduled attendance.
In my own life, as I’ve looked back and examined the times, places, and situations I really tried to avoid, I discover that, most of the time I was wanting to avoid something that wasn’t good for me. That’s positive. But there have been times when I was attempting to avoid some conflict or some situation or some scenario that my avoidance came from my own fear of being embarrassed, hurt, or even discovered. Here my avoidance was a misguided attempt to avoid responsibility or even the momentary “bitter” medicine of repentance that, in the long run, was actually rewarding and for my own good. In those times in my life God has often come and asked some very hard questions of me!
Look at our lesson today in John 21:14-25. We’ll just read the first part, but read the whole section if you can:
At that time, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”
We know this story well. The Lord is spending 40 days with His disciples, who would become His apostles, after His resurrection from the dead. And He is spending time with dear Peter, the one who denied knowing Him three times (that’s a hint, by the way). So Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” Three times to UNDO the three times Peter denied Him. And each time, you can tell from the text, this causes Peter real pain.
But isn’t that always the case with undoing the spiritual damage we do to ourselves? God loves you and wants to take you from your damaged past to a healed present. And He does this by engaging you in your FREEDOM! Jesus doesn’t demand Peter to follow Him. He invites Peter.
But Jesus also refuses to hide from Peter the cost of his freedom. If Peter Loves the Lord, he will take care of the Lord’s flock. Peter will have to be LIKE Jesus Who gives Himself to and for others. And Jesus also refuses to hide from Peter the results of his free choice to undo his denial and embrace the life of a faithful follower – Peter is going to die because of his free choice. And that’s OK.
Today, are you avoiding something or someplace unpleasant because you don’t want to deal with the necessary responsibility you have for a situation? Why? What’s stopping you from seeing God’s love and life for you as the invitation it is? God isn’t interested in making you a slave, but a son, a daughter! He won’t, out of His Freedom, ignore your freedom, and He won’t try to sugarcoat the consequences of your choosing to be faithful to Him. What He will do is give you the grace to see beyond the temporary and to the joy of being Orthodox on Purpose.