Our reading for Monday, May 20, 2019 is John 21:18-19.
18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – NIV
One of the fears of getting older is how we shall meet the end of our earthly lives. I’ve watched people struggle and die in nursing homes and hospitals from terrible illnesses and I’ve observed people embrace death with dignity and grace. The reality is that our end will come and we do not really have control over what it shall be. We can apply a certain measure of influence but control is out of the question. This may be the most difficult aspect of facing our end – the loss of some sense of control.
I find Jesus’ comments frustrating as I imagine they would not provide comfort to the already conflicted disciple, Peter. He had already tried to retreat in humiliation and shame from his failure to stand up with Jesus at his arrest, trial; and crucifixion. If anything he needed to be lifted up. I think some of his other caring brothers were concerned over the level of despair Peter was showing which was their motivation to following him as he tried to retreat and isolate himself.
I do not know what they thought, but for certain when Peter said he was going back to the sea they were determined not to allow him to go alone. There is a time when we need to allow our friends to retreat from fellowship with us in order to grieve and find healing, and there are times when we know that isolation has the potential of emotional harm. How can we tell the difference?
I believe their concern was rightly founded due to the fact that Peter, along with John, was one of the first persons (outside the women at the tomb) to witness Jesus’ resurrection. This fact, and the understanding that all that had transpired was part of God’s great plan for salvation, should have been enough to provide healing. Whatever role Peter played in the story would be overshadowed by God’s victory.
Personally, I have wallowed in self-pity and despair even though I know my redeemer lives and mentally trust God has a plan in all things. What we affirm mentally does not translate into emotional comfort. The incident at the Sea of Galilee was as much for Peter’s healing as it is for guiding us. There Jesus revealed himself to the disciples, particularly for Peter’s sake. It was he who dove off the boat to swim to Jesus. It was also Jesus who took Peter aside for personal conversation.
The exchange between Jesus and Peter I believe was comforting for Peter. Though irritating that his master would ask whether he thought he loved him, this was the underlying doubt afflicting Peter. Though Peter responded affirmatively twice to bolster his own assurance, by the third time his self-doubt which Jesus knew was in him was exposed. Only that which is exposed can be healed. Peter’s answer was “only you know, Lord.” Jesus responded with “then prove it to yourself by acting positively as though his was true by feeding the faith of Jesus’ other disciples. Move on! Move forward with Jesus.
If this advice was not enough, Peter then did what we all naturally do – we compare ourselves to others – and who was it that he would compare himself to but to the younger John, who identified himself in his own account as the one whom Jesus loved. He did not do this out of pride but out of joy from being accepted and loved. What came easily to John needed to be appropriated by Peter. What we know and what we can convince ourselves of are two different matters.
We each have different paths and contribute something unique and different to the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose. Jesus added to his response the mention of how Peter would end his journey. He would be led by the hand to a place he did not want to go. This may be due to the fact he was old and feeble or what history tells us was the way Peter died – by execution on the account of his faith and witness. That which broke his confidence and created his self-doubt would be resolved in his own death. Though he felt he had betrayed his Lord, he would one day provide the ultimate evidence of love by rendering his own personal sacrifice.
The story of our lives is not written until we take our final breath. What we might feel are our present failures and incompleteness will be overshadowed by the faithfulness we exhibit in the present time and the future. What Jesus hopes for us is that no matter what our past, distant or near, that we would follow him now. Our future is formed by the choices we make in the present, and every future time, by the decision we make to follow Jesus. That’s our source of comfort – to follow Jesus today no matter the circumstance.
May the assurance of Christ’s love be yours today!