Editor’s note: Today we welcome Kathryn Cunningham to the New Evangelizers blogging team!
The gift of freedom is the one identifiable privilege all Americans share, despite other differences. Here in the USA we can say, do, and think what we want, within the law.
Wait, though…are you angry? Are you holding a grudge? Are you “not speaking” to a friend, relative, co-worker because of some past offense? Have you “cut off” some part of your family for one reason or another?
Most of us felt that way at one time or another. How does that feel? In any of those situations, you know that those thoughts or the recall of the situation that precipitated things can be ever present in our memory. If that is the case, you have done your best to limit your own freedom.
Thinking about past disasters leaves us “unfree” to mature and grow and enjoy life in its present moment. Grudges and past resentments render us slave to that past experience.
Recalling past hurts is universally human and the way we deal with that shapes our ability to grow spiritually. In that light, I wonder how it’s possible that Peter accomplished anything after Jesus’ death.
Peter’s personality makes my head spin. His declaration of love for Jesus was so bold, so loud, so very public. Yet when push came to shove, he folded like a cheap tent, not once, not twice, but three times. He collapsed in a loud, brash public way, the exact same way that he declared his fidelity. At the end he swiftly moved to remorse in another public, loud, declarative fashion.
But the deed was done. He acted the coward, the liar; his denial of Jesus could not have been interpreted as anything else.
The three days of darkness must have been torture for Peter. In addition to going back on his word he must have been sick with guilt and regret. If that were me, I wouldn’t have been able to think of anything else. Even in the astonishment of the empty tomb my bet is that Peter’s thoughts weren’t far from his ultimate embarrassment and shame.
Peter is so us! He is human with his glaring faults right up front for all to see. Even in the face of the miracle of the ages, he and his companions were still locked into their slavery of misery. When Mary Magdalene appeared, with her astonishing news, they simply did not believe her.
True to his character of generosity, God is not easily discouraged. Days later Peter declares that he is going fishing. The disciples follow and a long night of work is fruitless. A “stranger” on the shore suggests that they toss in the nets for one more try. In a tumult of action there is a suddenly bulging net, Peter jumping in the water to cover himself and others shouting that it’s Jesus.
They have gone from low to high in an instant. Jesus has prepared breakfast, they are all together again. This is more than a shared meal. The Bible records that there is no conversation about resurrection in this amazing meeting. What does happen, though, is a sort of “resurrection” for Peter himself as well as the disciples who are watching.
The truth about that night in Pilot’s courtyard was that Peter never did not love Jesus. He sinned and in his fear he lied. He became his own victim of evil. Because of that sin he fell into misery and regret. The only thing he could think of doing was to go back to the “old ways.” That night on Galilee, he found that the old ways were fruitless and did nothing to assuage the way he felt.
Jesus was present there despite the fact that he was not recognized. He addressed Peter directly: “Do you love me?” He asks three times. Peter’s last answer comes with some frustration.
Jesus is literally seeking Peter to offer him relief. Finally, “Peter is faced with a choice: Either he can remain a slave of all his misery and regret, or he can obey a fact greater than his evil … a truth that the merciful gaze of the resurrected Jesus moves Peter to see. Peter – even in all his wretchedness does love Jesus. The reality of that love goes beyond Peter’s human ability to offend Christ. … And acknowledging that love, saying yes to it – especially in the midst of such self-damning guilt – is an expression of true Gospel freedom.” (Peter John Cameron, O.P., Editorial in Magnificat, April 2012, Vol. 14, No 2., p.20)
The effects of that freedom are the only thing that can explain what happened next. Peter made a 180-degree change. He began preaching to crowds with unquestioned authority and healing those who asked. Even jail and warnings from the authorities do not change his momentum. The coward who publically denied the Lord is transfigured by freedom.
Jesus is always present and offering each of us the same freedom. Are you so mired in your sins and imperfections that you don’t recognize his offer? Are you a greater sinner than Peter? He literally transformed the world because of the freedom that Jesus gave him.
You and I are no less worthy of this gift than Peter was. “Freedom is a decision about oneself and a setting of one’s own life for or against the Good, for or against the Truth, and ultimately for or against God.” (John Paul II).
Take up your second (third or fourth) chance. God constantly offers that to us for the taking. All that’s required is a simple yes!
Copyright © 2012, Kathryn M. Cunningham