That was a line in one of the daily "Pray-as-you-go" meditations I listen to, and it's gotten me thinking.
The comment was made in a reflection on John 21:15-19, the scene where Jesus asks Peter three times "do you love me?" As The Message puts it,
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”
Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered,“Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep"Remember this scene takes place after the resurrection.
After Peter had failed as a follower, having denied even knowing Jesus when asked.
After Peter had failed, three times.
But -- as the author of the Pray as You Go meditation pointed out -- Jesus isn't interested in an apology.
Jesus isn't interested in Peter's failures; he's interested in Peter's future.
(It's helpful to pause here a second and remember why it's so important that Christians believe Jesus was not -- as some seem to think -- merely a really really really nice man or someone who merely had a special connection to, or relationship with, God. But rather, Jesus was God, enfleshed. (Or more accurately: Jesus IS God, resurrected, ascended, interceeding, and advocating.) That's important to remember because if we want to know what God is like, the best way to find out is to pay close attention to what Jesus said and how he acted.)
And so -- if you believe that Jesus was God-made-flesh -- at least as far as this passage teaches, it's fair to conclude that when humans fail, God's first desire is not for an apology.
It sounds almost heretical as I type those words. "When we fail, God isn't interested in an apology?!? What's the point of confession, repentance, contrition, then?!?" the brain screams.
I'm not saying God isn't ever interested in apologies, and I'm not saying there isn't a role for confession and repentance and contrition.
What I am saying, though, is this: trained as we are by the church and by religious customs more than by what the Bible actually says and teaches about God, and accustomed as we are to "earning" or at least "doing something" ahead of time in order to "earn" everything we "get," we can scarcely get our heads around the idea that God often really seems quite indifferent to our religion-theology of apology.
And what I am saying is that while confession and repentance and contrition have a lot of value, perhaps their chief value is to US, not God: perhaps we need those religious customs more than God does.
So: what IS God interested in? What DOES Jesus ask of Peter?
In a kind of echo of Isaiah 58 (below) and Micah 6:8, Jesus doesn't tell Peter how he should feel (sorrowful, regretful, remorseful or anything else), but rather he gives him something to do.
Now that's an astonishing thought, and bears repeating:
When we fail, God doesn't tell us how we should feel, he gives us something to do.
Do you love me?
Well, then feed my lambs.
Do you love God, even though you've screwed up, failed, fallen short?
Well, then shepherd my sheep: Go take care of someone. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go freakin' DO something good for someone else.
Do you love God? Even though you feel inadequate, alone, confused, or full of doubt?
Well: all those feelings of inadequacy, alone-ness, confusion, and doubt are real and need to be taken seriously and addressed, but -- like a hunger pang that goes away when you are fed -- one of the best and most effective ways to address those feelings is to realize they can be every bit as self-centered and self-absorbed as those of an arrogant ego-maniac, and so if you really want to make those feelings go away, feed.
Feed my sheep.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high. ...
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.