Last Sunday, as we gave our consideration to the story that is often said to be about Doubting Thomas, I was struck by the words of Jesus to his friends. These were John’s equivalent of the Great Commission we read in Matthew 28 – but here Jesus is concerned with just one thing – Forgiveness.
John, of course, has a singular thread running through his gospel –
The God is love and those who love are in God and he is in them.
This is the new commandment – Love one another.
So it is not surprising nor out of place for him to see that what Jesus is commanding us all to be engaged in as his disciples – forgiveness. This is our singular task.
Strangely enough I think many Christians find this one of the hardest things in their journey of faith. If they have been hurt by someone, especially someone in the church, they so often find it darned hard to make up with them by offering forgiveness. I know I have struggled with that.
A story has emerged from the US in the aftermath of the shootings in Paris some little while ago.
Somewhere or another there must be some similar teaching on the Qu’oran, but there certainly is that teaching in the Bible.
In the stories that John tells us, immediately after he tells us in Jesus’ voice that our mission is to be forgiving people, there are two really vivid things for us to understand.
One of the many layers of meaning in that resurrection appearance of Jesus on the beach is the idea that his disciples are to cast out wide nets and gather in all who are there. This is a call to be an inclusive place – where all are welcome no matter their background. That was revolutionary thinking for his Jewish Disciples who had live in exclusive isolation from other races.
But I am more interested in the second story.
Before his execution, Jesus had warned Peter that he was going to do something unthinkable – and it was so unthinkable that Peter simply said that he would never do that.
But he did!
As I look at this scenario I feel for both Jesus and for Peter.
If Jesus was anything like you and me, and in many ways I think he was, he would have been heart-broken by the way his disciples all seemed to flake off into the shadows during the period leading up to his execution. And Peter’s betrayal would have hurt all the more because he had warned Peter.
But think about how Peter might have felt, too. I know that sometimes when people do something bad to others they don’t feel any remorse because they have worked out a way of thinking that has justified the horrible thing they have done. But Peter must have felt shattered. We call that shame. We have failed. We have let down someone we really do care about. It crushes us. We just want to hide away.
It is not surprising that Peter decided to go off fishing. He had to do something to take his mind of his shame. But Jesus follows him.
Here is a great teaching moment for Jesus. He has given his disciples this commission about forgiveness, now he can show them how it is done.
“Peter, do you love me more than these others do?”
Wow. What a question. It goes right to it.
Do you think Peter was able to look Jesus in the face that first time he said “Yes Lord. You know that I love you.”? Whether he did or not we don’t know, but Jesus said to him “Take care of my lambs”.
And this happened three times.
Anything that happens three times is something we have to take notice of. This is the same kind of forgiveness there was in Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son/Father. It was a forgiveness that did not have in it retribution. There was no probation after a failure. Here Peter is welcomed back into the community of the Disciples.
This single thing could transform the world.
This single thing could transform the church.
This single thing could transform you.
I said this was a hard thing – and it is. But when we remember how God has forgiven us so much, how could we ever withhold forgiveness from a fellow brother or sister.
God has forgiven us everything. There is nothing terrible or bad that we have done that God is holding out on the forgiveness for. It is in that forgiveness that we accept our righteousness before God – not something of our own efforts, not something that we deserved, but something by God’s grace that we have received.
And it is in that righteousness that we are restored as his children and can stand before him here every Sunday to receive these holy things. Nothing we do can keep us away from God’s love and forgiveness – as Peter found on that day on the beach.