It is a harsh reality that – one day – we will all die in this world. For some this is just a fact of life; for others it is a cause of constant worry – even bordering on obsession.
Whichever way you look at it – this is not a subject with which we like to be confronted.
After all, the choices we make in this life – all of our day-to-day decisions – depend on us forgetting that we are finite.
But … at the end of John’s gospel (where we find ourselves today), Jesus presents Peter with just such a sombre thought – When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.
This is such a strange thing to say – so strange that the gospel writer feels compelled to explain why it is included.
Peter has just confessed his love for Jesus, not once but three times – and yet … rather than responding in kind – Jesus forecasts Peter’s death.
What makes Jesus’ words particularly concerning lies in the reality that they are revealing – they are about Peter losing control.
That is never an easy message to hear – we so like being in control – we want control over our destinies, our finances, our schedules, our emotions, even those around us(!) – it is simply in the human psyche – being in control!
In this day and age, with increased life expectancy, one of the most frightening things we have to contemplate is losing control of our choices, our bodies – our thoughts!
And yet, in today’s gospel reading, that seems to be Jesus’ message in these parting words to a dear friend.
The account of Peter’s final meeting with Jesus takes us back to where it all began for Peter – by the Sea of Galilee – back in the familiar rhythms of fishing.
But … despite his knowledge and expertise, Peter is catching nothing.
Then a stranger appears and everything changes – empty nets are suddenly overflowing with an impossibly large catch.
The presence of that stranger has transformed emptiness into abundance, futility into triumph.
Scholars have long held the view that Peter’s three-fold declaration of love represents his retraction of his three-fold denial of Jesus at the time of his Lord’s arrest and trial.
This encounter with Jesus, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, is truly transformational –
fear has been transformed into joy and hope;
denial has been transformed into total commitment;
emptiness and futility have, indeed, been transformed into abundance and triumph.
Then – Jesus predicts Peter’s death …
In this encounter we see Jesus recognizing the depth of his disciple’s pain, and then offering new life.
As it began, three years earlier, so it ends in this world – with Jesus uttering those two fateful words – Follow me.
In spelling out the way it must end, Jesus is offering Peter the ultimate rescue package – he is inviting Peter to accept the challenge to not only trust God with his life, but also with his death.
In this account of the risen Jesus’ final earthly encounter with his dear friend – the one on whom the whole future of Christianity is to be built – we see the final piece of the jigsaw being put into place.
We finally see the totality of the picture –
- God is calling us to trust in him –
- to follow him along the paths that he has laid for us –
- to bring the reality of the risen Jesus into the lives of those with whom we share our earthly existences –
- to remain true to our acceptance of his call until the very moment of our earthly death –
- to trust that our end in this world is merely a beginning, a beginning of new life in the presence of him who trod every step of that path before us – even to the point of human death.
In today’s gospel reading, we are not really being invited to focus on the way in which our earthly lives will end –
rather we are being invited to accept Jesus’ call to follow him, in order that, ultimately, we may share in the totality, the joy, the abundance and the triumph of his glorious resurrection.
The big question is – are we up for answering that call – even when it means that we are called to ‘let go’ of trying to control every aspect of our lives, and the lives of those around us, and trust the stranger whose foolishness is so much greater than any aspect of our wisdom?