Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. There is a line from one of the psalms that reads: ‘If you O Lord should mark our guilt, who would survive. But with you is found forgiveness, for this we revere you’ (Ps. 130:3). It speaks of hope for all of us who believe in a God of second chances. In last week’s Gospel, a second chance was given to Thomas after his refusal to believe. This week, it is Peter’s turn to be forgiven and healed. It is a Gospel that shows how God never writes people off, despite their failures.
It was said of Stalin and Hitler that if you made a mistake, it was your last. We too sometimes write people off because of one bad experience. But which of us would be like to be judged on a single moment of our lives?
After what happened on Holy Thursday night, we would have expected Jesus to write Peter off as being weak, cowardly and unreliable. He had been chosen as the leader, the rock. But when the time of testing came, he crumbled. He had set a terrible example so it would have been no surprise if Jesus had said: ‘Peter, you were my choice as leader but since you failed me, I have chosen someone else’. Yet Jesus did not write Peter off or demote him. Jesus knew that Peter’s denial was not out of malice but of fear.
Then we have that wonderful exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus offered Peter exactly what he needed. Like Thomas last week, the Lord knows what we need before we ask it and approaches us with that offer. Thomas needed faith. He was offered it. Peter needed forgiveness and reassurance. He was offered it in a way that engaged him with the most important question of all: ‘Do you love me?’ Peter responded by declaring his love for Christ in public since he had also denied him in public. And then Jesus said to Peter in similar words to these: ‘Peter, I know now that you love me. Despite your failure, my choice of you remains. I never wrote you off. Now, go and show your love by sharing your faith in me and serving my people’.
So how did it work out for Peter? As we we see him in the first reading, Peter came good. He went on to become a fearless leader and preacher of the Gospel, finally giving his life in Rome to the glory of God. I’m sure Peter never forgot his failure but it didn’t stop him from becoming a great saint who became a powerful witness to God’s mercy despite being a flawed human being.
Friends, Peter’s story is a great consolation and source of hope to us. Courage fails us all. But as in Peter’s case, God looks beyond our failures and does not write us off. We must forgive ourselves as God forgives us and not write people off for their failings either.
But perhaps, the most important element of the story is if and how we love God. To each of us, Jesus’ words are addressed: ‘Do you love me?’ Is love at the heart of our relationship with God? Do we love God in response to Him loving us? In the words of the second reading, is God worthy ‘to be given honour, wisdom, strength, glory and blessing?’ We all have to answer this question for ourselves but as we do, let’s take a look at the one who has been pierced - the One who became the innocent lamb of sacrifice who never wrote anyone off but was written off himself; the One who was abandoned by his friends but who draws close to them afterwards in forgiveness, offering them a second chance. Here is the God of Jesus Christ - the humble, merciful and understanding God who never writes us off. If he is not worthy of our worship then what god is?