No, Follow Christ

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We all do it, or at least statistics suggest at one point or another all of us have done it.

You do not have to be ashamed, it is a perfectly natural thing to do.

It is the reason why every year, around December 30th we are inundated with commercials persuading us we need to make a change. The commercials go something like this - there is something in your life that needs to be changed, slightly adjusted, or tweaked and a new year is a perfect time to make this positive change in your life.

Want to quit smoking? 

Start January 1 with a fresh start.

What washboard abs or lower blood pressure?

Start fresh on January 1 with a new fitness or nutrition plan.

For whatever fresh start you may choose to make, some products and services offer you the opportunity to enlist the help of a guide, someone you can follow along your journey of change. This guide will supposedly hold you accountable. If you are quitting a habit like smoking, this guide is willing to smack the cigarette out of your hand as you light it up. If you are after that perfect beach body in three easy steps by February, your personal guide will help you suppress even the most tempting donut from Sugar Shack or a late night Five Guys burger. This is the person who will show you the way to live the new life you are seeking to live. 

More often than not, after making a fresh start commitment - another name for this could be a new law we are following - less than 21 days later we fall back into our old ways. We are unable to follow the new law we lead ourselves through or worst, the one who was supposed to be guiding us created for us. We shared our goals with this person. We placed our trust in this person. This person who was supposed to encourage us and we failed. 

For some reason or another, we find our way back to what is comfortable, leaving behind the new law we attempted to follow. A new way of life that we think will remove the obstacle preventing us from living life freely as we have always wanted. It takes less than 21 days for us, on average, to abandon the changes - our new law - we have made to improve our lives.

The disciples had followed Jesus for over three years. For three years the disciples followed an itinerant rabbi who called them away from their fishing nets and tax posts. For three years, the disciples followed as Jesus taught and healed his way from Nazareth to Jerusalem. For three years, Peter and his friends witnessed first hand the ministry of Christ.

In the end, the same group would also witness Christ’s arrest, trial, torture, and death. Then the miraculous happened, Jesus exited the tomb, the burial clothes left neatly folded. Jesus greeted Mary and then revealed himself to the other followers who had been hiding behind the locked door in a nondescript building. 

After the divine encounter, Jesus commissioned the disciples and sent them out with the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were going to proclaim and continue the work Christ had started through his birth and accomplished when he exited the tomb. 

By the power of Christ’s resurrection, they were freed from their captivity to sin. The disciples were invited to step into the grace of G-d and fully enjoy their forgiveness. Yet, we read that after Jesus appeared before Thomas, and Thomas confessed Jesus to be Lord and G-d, it seems the disciples are going back to the familiarity of their lives before they knew Christ. 

The Gospel writer tells us Peter had organized a fishing expedition - old habits are hard to kick. Like the first fishing trip we read about in Luke’s Gospel, not a single fish was caught during this all night expedition. Their efforts were in vain. They had taken three years off to follow Jesus. Were they rusty? Surely, if you go fishing all night long you will catch something. I am not a fisherman but I have watched enough Deadliest Catch to know that eventually something will get caught. It may not be a king or opilio crab but eventually something ends up in the pot. 

Every time the disciples sent out their nets and drew them back in, the nets came up empty. And like Luke’s Gospel, when the disciples returned to shore a stranger was there and told them to cast their nets out again. 

Jesus had been standing on the beach, the disciples had yet to recognize him and it was not until they obeyed the stranger's commands that Peter and his friends recognized the One they had followed for three years. It was not until the nets came up full, so full they expected their nets to rip, that the disciples recognized the fullness of who was standing before them.

Gathered around a charcoal fire (this is proof, charcoal grills are superior to gas) the disciples joined Jesus for a post-resurrection Eucharist feast. The table was, as it is today, prepared and hosted by Christ. All of the disciples were invited to receive the meal. All of them, including the one who had denied knowing Jesus during his darkest hour of need.

When Jesus was most vulnerable and isolated, Peter denied knowing him. Peter did exactly what he had promised not to do, just as Jesus had predicted.

“You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” - John 18:17

“They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” - John 18:25

“The man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.” - John 18:26-27

Now, face-to-face with Jesus, having denied knowing him, perhaps forgetting about the commission given to him in the upper room, just after Jesus exited the grave, Peter has some baggage to deal with. Peter had some explaining to do.

Jesus asked Peter a series of questions: 

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” - John 21:15

“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.”  - John 21:16

“Simon son of John, do you love me?” - John 21:17

By this point, Peter’s feelings appear to have been hurt. Sure he knows he messed up on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, but why is Jesus pressing the issue?

“Simon Peter, do you love me?”

The series of questions could seem like Jesus was being rough on Peter, perhaps holding Peter to task for his actions by the charcoal fire after Jesus was arrested. I mean, Jesus doesn’t even address Peter as Peter, rather by his given name - Simon Son of John. 

Maybe Jesus needed reassurance from Peter that he would hold the line, and not fall off the grace and mercy wagon Peter along with the other disciples had been invited to step onto. Or maybe, just maybe, like time and time again during his ministry, Jesus was inviting Peter to set aside the shame of his past and to step into grace and mercy.

Peter, after following Jesus for three years, denied knowing Jesus three times in a matter of hours. It wasn’t that Peter forgot who Jesus was or was ashamed of his association with Jesus. No, Peter was looking out for himself, reverting to what would be comfortable for him rather than who he had been invited to be. If Jesus’ questions were about finding someone who had a perfect record, someone who could follow the law perfectly, to lead what was to come, he would have looked elsewhere. 

Jesus invited Peter to step out of the shame of his denial and into the Light of grace. The Light of the grace of Christ shines in the darkest corners of creation, shining into the darkness of the shame we hide from one another and the darkness we try to hide from ourselves.

The grace of Jesus Christ invited Peter and invites us, calling us out of our denial, out of our inability to follow the law we create for ourselves and the law created for us by others, and to step into the fullness of Christ’s resurrection. It is by the grace of Christ that we are invited to live in the fullness of this life, having had the power of our denial and sins overcome by Christ’s own faithfulness. 

Through three denials it seemed as though Peter had thrown away three years of faithful service to Christ. In a few hours of weakness, Peter thought his lack of faithfulness may have prevented him from following Jesus. But Jesus proves, yet again, that his faithfulness prevails where ours falls short. 

The grace of Christ calls us beyond our doubts and denials and into the Light of the empty tomb. 

The grace of Christ calls us to set aside our agendas - the things we think we can do for ourselves to live our best life yet - and to live fully in the glory of His resurrection.

The calling extended to Peter, “Follow me,” is the same calling extended to each of us when we emerge from our baptismal waters. This calling - “Follow Me” -  is an invitation to meet Christ at his table, but “Follow me” is also an invitation to experience the fullness of the freedom extended to us by the power of Jesus’ Easter victory - the final victory over our captivity to sin and death.

“Follow Me” is an invitation to the life we know we cannot live on our own.

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