Today I offer thoughts related to a post-Easter passage found in John 21:1-22.
Brand New Odyssey. We bought our 2003 Honda Odyssey brand new in May of that year. It was a really funny experience. We were actually upgrading from another minivan – the only family car my kids had known. My daughter, Laiken, was not ready to make the change. Even though it was a better ride in every possible way – complete with a DVD system and automatic sliding doors – two things Noah thought were especially cool as a six-year-old. Laiken spent a total of 15 seconds examining the new van, then promptly took her place in our old van we were going to trade in, plopped herself in her car seat, buckled up, and began to cry, mourning the potential loss of the only van she ever loved up to that point. She didn’t win the case that day, and eventually got over it.
From New to Used to Denial. We still own the van. Upon close inspection, you might come to realize that it is no longer brand new. The odometer reads almost 185,000 miles. The floor mats are worn, and some of the stains are reminders of juice boxes once enjoyed. The stereo includes a CD and cassette player (!), but Bluetooth didn’t exist yet, so that only works through an aftermarket gizmo using the auxiliary input. One rear window doesn’t open anymore, either. The exterior is showing some signs of wear. The sun has revealed that the paint used for the trim wasn’t quite on the money. Every handle is just a bit off – can we now call it a two-tone car? And if you happen to look at either the front or rear bumper, you might notice – actually, you can’t miss – the fact that the car has been in a fender bender. The front bumper is cracked. The rear bumper is wrinkled. I’m not going to fix it. We’ve had it for sixteen years, and it looks like it. Yet it is filled with stories that represent our little family’s history. We all grew up in that van. The stains and scratches are there, and are easily seen. To try and ignore them is an effort in futility. The evidence of life belongs in a sixteen-year-old van. The van lived up to its name – our family memories are interwoven in the odyssey of our Odyssey. Our odyssey is us, and our Odyssey has been our ride all along the way.
Peter’s Backstory. Peter was a 2003 Odyssey, but he kind of thought he was still brand new. It was a Thursday night. Jesus and his closest followers were having their last supper together when Peter confessed his undying devotion to Jesus, to which he replied, “Pete, I know you mean what you say with all of your heart, but the truth is that before dawn tomorrow, you’re going to deny even knowing me. Three times!” Peter was undoubtedly defensive (even if only inwardly). But Jesus was correct. After he was arrested, Peter was asked three times if he was one of Jesus’ disciples, and each time Peter denied any association with him.
Jesus’ Approach to Seeing Clearly. Some time after Easter, Jesus knew that he was going to have a genuine “come to Jesus” meeting with Peter where they would address his denials, resolve the issue, and hopefully resulting in his restoration. In light of what was to unfold, Jesus quite literally set the table for a healthy encounter. He gave the fisherman the catch of a lifetime which meant full bellies and full bank accounts. He had a fantastic campfire breakfast ready for these hungry men. Everyone was welcome to eat and be together. What started out as a lousy day turned into a great day.
Notice what he didn’t do. He didn’t exclude Peter even though there was a mess yet to clean up. He didn’t exclude any of the disciples who harbored bad feelings toward Peter, either. These are significant things to notice, because Christians have been infamous for excluding people who are wounded while including people who have scorned them. For all of us who will one day be in conflict with someone else, we can learn a lot from Jesus’ approach here, choosing to do everything he could to foster an environment that would make the difficult talk more likely to end well.
We can also take heart from this passage if we have any fear at all about facing God after death. The popular vision is of a judge ready to cast his verdict. Even though we may be confident about the grace of God being enough in various ways, the image is still a judge. How about we upgrade our image to what we see here? What if the heart of God is just as we see reflected in Jesus? Not a judge, but a deeply trusted, loving friend with whom we can let our guard down. If we really believe that God was fully manifested in Jesus, then let that give you great hope if you are worried about being judged. Everything is couched in love.
Seeing Continuum: From Self-Loathing to Self-Aggrandizement. It is no coincidence that Jesus asked Peter three times whether or not he loved him. Once the third round came, Peter connected the dots. He saw himself clearly. No more denial. My guess is we’re all somewhere on the self-awareness continuum. Some of us are more on the self-loathing extreme, and some of us are more on the self-aggrandizement extreme – I guess we’re all morons one way or another! In either case – and for everyone in between – I think the Spirit of God works with us as it did through Jesus with Peter. For the self-loather, I think the Spirit whispers words of encouragement, affirmation, worth. For the Peter type, I think the Spirit calls them back to reality.
What Love has to do with it: Core paradigm. With great grace on display yet again, Jesus pulled Peter aside, alone near the water where the fishing boats were beached (he wasn’t interested in publicly humiliating the guy) and led him into the crux of the issue. They weren’t going to get into a debate about context – there were reasonable reasons for Peter’s fear the night he denied knowing Jesus. The issue then and going forward for Peter was about the centrality of Christ in his life. Did he really, truly love Jesus above all else? Asking him three times in a row was extremely strategic. By the third time, Jesus didn’t have to even bring up what the conversation was all about – Peter woke up by the third round – his thrice denial. Peter, now humbled, confessed his love and devotion, and Jesus told him that there were going to be tough days ahead because of it that would mimic his own journey of suffering. That was helpful, in case he ever thought that difficulties somehow meant the absence of God. In fact, in his case difficulties stemmed from his intimacy with God.
Life is like my old Honda. Life is an odyssey, a series of journeys that take us here and there and help us pile up memories with every stain and scratch. But the very relevant news of Easter is that there is a greater possibility in deep relationship with God – a different odyssey – than the one we’ve lived from a more casual acquaintance relationship with God. A ride that conjures a different kind of pride than before, that celebrates the scratches and stains, knowing that they belong, but that they aren’t the end of the story and actually serve to provide a different value. What could be an embarrassing dent is now a reminder of grace that restored us for a few more miles. Peter could say, “Even though I denied three times, God still cleaned me up and used me in ways I could not have imagined.”
What Resurrection Looks Like: More than a Renovated 2003 Odyssey… Another three rounds of questions would come up within a few years and Peter kept his devotion intact, even though it went against everything he had ever thought (see Acts 10). His faithfulness opened the door for every non-Jewish person to be included in the Jesus movement. The “yes” would lead to inclusion (let that sink in and apply it broadly). Peter’s life would never be the same. In many ways, his new life was so different, it was almost like he was resurrected – his old life was dead and buried, his new life in God moved forward. He only got there, however, because he addressed his shadowy side and chose to move forward.
What does the new model look like? I don’t think it’s a fully restored 2003 Honda Odyssey (maybe, though – who knows?). I think it’s much more profound than that. There is a reason that one popular image of Easter is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly – from where we currently are we cannot fathom what we might become. Our current consciousness, as Einstein noted, cannot offer different solutions – we need a new consciousness. That’s what Jesus lived and proclaimed as very Good News, and what he was inviting Peter to embrace. Maybe the upgrade is from a clunker van to a sports car, or shiny SUV. But maybe it’s a Space X rocket, or a hospital ship, or a helicopter, or a dump truck, or a school bus, or a snow plow, or a dune buggy, or all of the above, transforming as needed. The point is that Easter proclaims the hope that new life is upon us, that it will be ours post-grave in surprising ways, and can be realized now. In acknowledging our odyssey/Odyssey, we allow it to continue in very surprising, new ways.
Our Turn. The Spirit of God continues to speak and invite us to see clearly and decide where we want to go next, all related to our relationship with God. What are you sensing today? How is God providing a mirror for you today? What might resurrection mean for you as you walk forward from this Easter? Where has your odyssey/Odyssey taken you so far? Where might it take you next?