The Lord of Loose Ends and Second Chances

April 28, 2017

Great narrators have a way of keeping the audience’s attention all the way to the end of the story, and gospel writer John is no exception. His carefully organized account of Jesus’ life and ministry left some loose ends. The great climax of the story is the resurrection, of course, and afterwards John breaks our suspense with satisfying details.

In chapter 21, John relates Jesus’ appearances to his disciples in various settings. Late in the day of his resurrection, he visited his closest associates to confirm what they had heard after finding his tomb empty. Thomas (the Twin) missed the meeting and, when told later of Jesus’ coming, would not believe it unless he saw the Lord with his own eyes. . . . a loose end left dangling for a week until Jesus came back to present himself to Thomas specifically.

In chapter 1, the disciples were curious about the new Teacher, who invited them to come and see what he did for a living. One by one, they responded to Jesus’ invitation, “Come, follow me.” Throughout his ministry, the twelve accompanied him on his preaching and healing mission. But now, after the resurrection, with Jesus out of their sight (most of the time), they are looking for something to do and decide to go back to fishing. The Man on the Beach calls out to them, gives them some fishing advice, and then invites them back to the shore for breakfast. Peter is already in the water, swimming the 100 yards to the beach, because it can only be the Lord who provides the miraculous catch of 153 fish! And what is Jesus serving? Bread and fish, just like on that day he fed five thousand people with five rolls and two sunfish. And very similar to the Last Supper. Another theme comes full circle.

But there was one more loose end to be tied up, and that had to do with Peter’s denial of Jesus during the night of the trials and scourging. Three times, Peter claimed to strangers that he did not know the Man being tried before Pilate. He was bitterly reminded of Jesus’ prediction of his denial when the cock crowed three times. Peter was not present for the crucifixion. He hid in the Upper Room in fear and confusion. He was paralyzed by what we now call an epic fail. Guilt. Shame. Disqualification.

The charcoal fire Jesus has ignited on the beach reminds Peter of the charcoal fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ home, where the trial was held. The site of Peter’s test is transported from courtyard to beach in an instant, and the Lord has some questions for the disgraced disciple.

15When 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.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A 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.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He 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.

Three times Peter is asked, Do you love me? And three times he says yes, erasing the record (so to speak) of his three denials. His hurt feelings indicate that Peter doesn’t yet perceive Jesus’ questioning as an offer of grace. In fact, Jesus is clearing the air with a particular purpose in mind, so that Peter can go into action to “feed my lambs, tend my sheep.”

At the heart of the gospel is forgiveness. The Lord gives second chances when we fail. He verifies our loyalty and commitment, and asks us, “Do you love me?” If our answer is “Yes,” then Jesus says, “Get to work on the job I have given you!”

If only we could do the same for each other. Despite the universal need for forgiveness and restoration—a fact that should induce empathy—we still have trouble forgiving and moving on with a person who has not lived up to our expectations. We are not sure we can trust a person’s expression of remorse and resolve. In the polarized climate of present-day America, the public shows little tolerance for mistakes or errors in its leaders. Business and political figures are forced out of office after one offense, with no time or opportunity to make something right. Neither the judged nor the judge in this case is perfect, and wisdom must prevail as we organize and govern ourselves. I wonder what difference it would make if we followed our Risen Lord’s example in the evaluation and support of our leaders. Can we discern their intentions, verify their loyalty and commitment to the good, and define what we expect of them? We should try!

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