13 May 2016

Do You Love Me, Peter? Being Made Fully Human in Dialogue With God (Reprise)

Today's Gospel includes the pericope where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. It is the first time we hear much about or from Peter since his triple denial of Christ --- his fear-driven affirmations that he did not even know the man and is certainly not a disciple of his. After each question and reply by Peter, Jesus commissions Peter to "feed my lambs, feed my sheep." I have written about this at least three times before.

About four or five years ago I used this text to reflect on the place of conscience in our lives and a love which transcends law. At another point I spoke about the importance of Jesus' questions and of my own difficulty with Jesus' question to Peter. Then, about three years ago at the end of school I asked the students to imagine what it feels like to have done something for which one feels there is no forgiveness possible and then to hear how an infinitely loving God deals with that. The solution is not, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have termed it, "cheap grace" --- a forgiveness without cost or consequences. Neither is it a worthless "luv" which some in the Church mistakenly disparage because they hear (they say) too many homilies about the God of Love and mercy and not enough about the God of "justice". Instead, what Jesus reveals in this lection is a merciful love which overcomes all fear and division and summons us to incredible responsibility and freedom. The center of this reading, in other words, is a love which does justice and sets all things right.

But, especially at this time in the church's life, today's Gospel also takes me to the WAY Jesus loves Peter. He addresses him directly; he asks him questions and allows him to discover an answer which stands in complete contrast to and tension with his earlier denials and the surge of emotions and complex of thoughts that prompted them. As with Peter, Jesus' very presence is a question or series of questions which have the power to call us deeper, beyond our own personal limitations and conflicts, to the core of our being. What Jesus does with Peter is engage him at a profound level of heart --- a level deeper than fear, deeper than ego, beyond defensiveness and insecurity. Jesus' presence enables dialogue at this profound level, dialogue with one's true self, with God, and with one's entire community; it is an engagement which brings healing and reveals that the capacity for dialogue is the deepest reflection of our humanity.

It is this deep place in us which is the level for authentically human decision making. When we perceive and act at this level of heart we see and act beyond the level of black and white thinking, beyond either/or judgmentalism. Here we know paradox and hold tensions together in faith and love. Here we act in authentic freedom. Jesus' dialogue with Peter points to all of this and to something more. It reminds us that loving God is not a matter of "feeling" some emotion --- though indeed it may well involve this. Instead it is something we are empowered in dialogue with the Word and Spirit of God to do which transcends even feelings; it is a response realized in deciding to serve, to give, to nourish others in spite of the things happening to us at other levels of our being.

When we reflect on this text involving a paradigmatic dialogue between Peter and Jesus we have a key to understanding the nature of all true ministry, and certainly to life and ministry in the Church. Not least we have a significant model of papacy. Of course it is a model of service, but it is one of service only to the extent it is one of true dialogue, first with God, then with oneself, and finally with all others. It is always and everywhere a matter of being engaged at the level of heart, and so, as already noted, beyond ego, fear, defensiveness, black and white thinking, judgmentalism or closed-mindedness to a place where one is comfortable with paradox. As John Paul II wrote in Ut Unum Sint, "Dialog has not only been undertaken; it is an outright necessity, one of the Church's priorities, " or again, "It is necessary to pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party recognizes the other as a partner. . .any display of mutual opposition must disappear." (UUS, secs 31 and 29)

But what is true for Peter is, again, true for each of us. We must be engaged at the level of heart and act in response to the dialogue that occurs there. Because of the place of the Word of God in this process, lectio divina, the reflective reading of Scripture, must be a part of our regular praxis. So too with prayer, especially quiet prayer whose focus is listening deeply and being comfortable with that often-paradoxical truth that comes to us in silence. Our humanity is meant to be a reflection of this profound dialogue. At every moment we are meant to be a hearing of Jesus' question and the commission to serve which it implies. At every moment then we are to be the response which transcends ego, fear, division, judgmentalism, and so forth. Engagement with the Word of God enables such engagement, engagement from that place of unity and communion with God and others Jesus' questions to Peter allowed him to find and live from. My prayer today is that each of us may commit to be open to this kind of engagement. It makes of us the dialogical reality, the full realization of that New Creation which is truly "not of this world" but instead is of the Kingdom of God --- right here, right now.