One of my favorite Matins Gospels is read today, today, but not in matins. I marvel at how, no matter how many times I read this gospel, alone, or in church, I am filled with ineffable emotion and hope. It seems to me that St John’s Gospel is filled with hidden instructions to the soul, that I can just get a glimpse of, or even grasp with my fingers for a moment, but the full understanding of the message eludes me.
So it is with this story, which I read every eleven weeks in church, and never tire of it.
There is a message here for me (and for you), that we can only see if we love.
Today I learned a little bit more about why I cannot quite understand the message.
Simon Peter loved the Lord, but not perfectly. The Lord showed Him this gently. Of course, the use of the two Greek words for love is significant – The Lord asked Simon if He loved Him with the Love that we should have for God, and Simon, unsure of himself, still ashamed of his previous fall, answered the Lord that He “had affection” for Him. This happened two times. The third time, the Lord only asked Simon if he “had affection” for Him. Peter was hurt, not because the question had been asked three times, but because the Lord had changed the question the third time!
Peter’s three responses: as they say: I have “been there, done that”.
Peter wanted to love the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind. Only recently he had fallen far short of this virtue, and he was unsure. It was not that he did not want to love the Lord completely, unreservedly, but that he doubted he could!
I am a pastor. I want to help my flock and everyone I meet in the one thing needful. That is the ONLY THING I want to do, ALL The time. My fallen and inconvenient humanity gets in the away. I get tired, depressed, unsure, lazy, angry, impatient … and I show in my actions that I “have affection” for the Lord, but not unreserved love.
In reading this passage today, how to love the Lord completely just became a little clearer. I cannot will it to be so, but I am accomplishing it more and more each day, despite myself. The key is in the words the Lord spoke to Peter after his tri-fold question.
18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
Everyday, I am led where I do not want to go. I wish I would go willingly; I need to learn to go willingly. So many things are not the way I want them. I am tired of fighting to build the church. I know it will happen, but not according to my time schedule. I wonder why – is it because of the city of McKinney, our poverty, my sins?
Maybe all three, and a hundred and fifty and three other reasons besides, but this does not matter. Being led where I do not want to go is part of the process. I am being taught to be humble, and what meekness really is. I think the best definition of meekness is that a Christian accepts everything in that happened to him as the will of God, with thankfulness and hope.
I sure have a lot of stuff happening to me. I accept some of it. I think our Lord’s words to Peter tell me that I must accept all of it, and that there is only one way to accomplish this – by being led where I do not want to go, and learning to accept it.
This is love, and I know it in my head and part of my heart.
Perhaps before going to church this afternoon, I will stop by the as of now bare ground (excepting a 11 foot cedar cross) in McKinney, and thank God that it is still barren, and that I do not like this. I will kiss the cross, and remember that love is not what I say, but what I do, and what I accept being done to me.
Oh, these are hard lessons to learn!
John 21:15-25 15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? 24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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