Monday, March 7, 2016

Getting that belt tied around us and taken to where we'd rather not go.

The gospel of John, the last of the gospels written, is markedly different from the other three, which are often referred to as ‘synoptics’ (Greek synopsis, “view together”). 

Written later than the other three, John’s writing style and theology stands out.  It doesn’t take a scripture scholar to notice that the Jesus in John can seem more divine than human, leading some noted scholars to say that if John’s gospel was the only gospel we have, we would hardly know much about the humanity of Jesus.

In the post resurrection narrative in John’s gospel, Jesus asks Peter those three very poignant, searing and pertinent questions – “do you love me?”  It was, as some commentaries tell us, Jesus’ way of allowing Peter to repent of his three denials of his master before he was crucified on Calvary for the sins of humankind.  To be sure, I don’t think we will ever know the true reasons for those three questions, though of course, this reason does make a lot of spiritual sense.

It was after this that Jesus tells Peter something about his life and all of our own lives – it is a very striking and somber statement that while he was young, Peter used to dress himself and go where he wanted.  But when he grows old, he will stretch out his hands and someone else will dress him and lead him where he does not want to go. 

Peter the true disciple who became the first Pope, indeed saw this happen to his life.  Jesus, in telling Peter this, is in fact giving us all an insight into true discipleship and preparing us all for a life that should not be surprised or confounded when we find our lives mired in some kind of challenge, difficulty and unexplainable suffering. 

This pretty much sums up and is the narrative for almost all of us.  We all have those experiences of our younger, nubile and yes, even willful years when we dressed ourselves and went wherever we wanted.  This is a metaphorical way of saying that we simply lived as if the world orbited around us.  Some would say that those were the ‘best’ times of our lives, when there seemed to be no limit to what we could achieve or experience, and the world did appear to be our oyster.  Just a quick scan of the plethora of videos on YouTube of Commencement speakers at college graduations (a lot of them from America) will reveal that most of them say the same thing in different ways to the graduands.  Do not put limits on your dreams and you can achieve anything you set your mind to.  While on the surface this kind of message does seem to be uplifting, encouraging and positive, it can subliminally tell these people that all limits and boundaries are to be disdained and even disrespected, just so long as one is able to attain one’s desires, no matter what they may be.

But if we take Jesus’ words to Peter to heart, it will dawn on us that total human freedom and subjective expression without respecting borders of any kind may not be the best thing that we can do for ourselves.  In fact, it could well be the worst thing.

Of course, I do know that reflecting on this on a blog like this could only make sense if one is truly interested in reaching any level of spiritual sensibility.  If you were an atheist reading this reflection, you would most likely have stopped reading this three paragraphs ago, or are readying yourself with a vitriolic rebuttal to debunk all that came before.  But if you, dear reader, are a searcher of truth and see the folly of only always seeking what thrills delights and titillates, the words of Jesus will words of life, because he IS the Word.

But in truth, his words are true not just for those who are beginning to see the wisdom in moving themselves out of the centre of their universe.  It is just as applicable to people whose whole lives are displaced and experience some kind of dislocation.  I’m thinking of people who have just been told that they have a very slim chance of seeing their next birthday because of a grim prognosis, or a spouse realizing that his or her marriage is no longer salvageable, or a parent who is at the deathbed of her child and who knows that there is no way that she will be driving home with her child ever again from that hospital and that she will never be playing with her toys at home. 

These are the kinds of places that we go to only when there is a rope tied around us.  These are the situations where we are dressed by others because we are either unwilling or unable to ourselves.  We find ourselves in a new location – and that we have been dislocated.  That we are led there when we are older often means that we are also conscripted there, often by a conspiracy of circumstances rather than by choice.  After all, one only gets conscripted or drafted only when one is of age.  Indeed, it is rarely by choice that we go to those border situations on our own.  Would that it be that we enter into these times by a gentle hand, but the truth is that quite often, it hits us unawares and sends us reeling.

But it is when we show our grit as faithful disciples of Christ that we slowly see the necessity of surrender under such trying circumstances.  It is only those who have some semblance of faith in God and that he and he alone holds the universe in place who are willing to admit that all that one can see at any one point of time is merely a tiny corner of God’s immense and enormous plan, and we are but blessed cooperators of God.

Our task as priests and spiritual mentors to souls is most challenging and most necessary at such times in the lives of the faithful.  I must admit that oftentimes, it is difficult and painful to see people being led to these places. 
It may seem odd but I do believe that at these times, realizing what baptism really means can strengthen our faith.  Baptism, understood in a very broad way, is a displacement.  It places us outside of a merely physical and material world, and brings us into the spiritual.  It gives us a life that supernatural – beyond that of nature itself.  And of course, living in faith makes sense only when we live in Christ by virtue of our baptism. 

And when we dare to live this faithfully and this large, we know ultimately that even though we are led to places we would rather not go, that it is the love of God beyond our fathoming that we are led to places that we need to go to, for the betterment of our very own souls.


  1. Hi Fr Luke, I’ve always been uncomfortable with John 21:18, but wouldn’t have thought of applying its meaning to my situation which mirrors what you’ve penned in your reflection. I was recently diagnosed with a condition, while not terminal, can best be described as dehabilitating and brain surgery is the only solution. I tell friends I’m not mentally prepared to go through it, but in essence, I don’t trust putting my life in the hands of the surgeon. But it dawned on me that the fundamental issue is that I’ve never been able to surrender myself totally to God, which is exactly what I’ll be doing when I go for surgery. Not that I’m unaware I have this strong streak of self-reliance, but the realisation is particularly stark at this point. I pray that I will continue to mature in my faith amidst this experience and make the right decisions with regards to my condition.

    - S

  2. “These are the kinds of places that we go to only when there is a rope tied around us..................... because we are either unwilling or unable to ourselves. We find ourselves in a new location – and that we have been dislocated. hits us unawares and sends us reeling........”

    Strangely enough, I find your words very apt to describe - how we find ourselves in the wake of the storms that rage in our lives. Storms may not be of our making, but once engulfed in one, the only thing left to do is to learn to ride with and through it, in whatever vessel we find ourselves in. But how does one not lose one’s grip or foothold in the tempest? In times of peace and calm, it seems so logical and temptingly easy to say - have Faith – but where does faith reside? And does one need a certain quantity of it to be fairly confident of mastering the storm?

    Reflecting on this, it would seem that faith is not just a thing but rather a present of a presence and that is why – when we actively seek His presence, His face will become more familiar and so we grow in faith. And though we be ‘made of clay’ - we will not shatter if we continue to hold fast and look into His face – remembering the lesson of Peter not to be distracted by the noise, the tumult of the storm. It is not easy to overcome fear, especially the fear of the unknown in any storm and especially when we know we are “men of little faith”. I feel that however small this faith we have - it will always be sufficient for the purpose – for (1 John 5:4) says that “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.”

    God bless you, Fr.


  3. Dear Father,
    It is most heartening to be reminded that our priests/ spiritual mentors accompany us through our struggles in faith and growth in the spirit. In a world where individuals seek to be seen, known or identified with the who's who of the world, I am thankful that God sends out choice persons of faith to lead the flock and align our focus on Him.
    "Baptism, understood in a very broad way, is a displacement. It places us outside of a merely physical and material world, and brings us into the spiritual. It gives us a life that supernatural – beyond that of nature itself."

    That got me thinking, - is this the baptism of the spirit, the outpouring of the spirit? Baptism has generally signified "belonging" to the institutional church - the word displacement therefore caught me off-guard (short sighted as I am).
    My single search found this from Dr Ray Pritchard:
    "When you are baptized, you are in fact visually preaching the gospel. As you stand in the water waiting to be baptized, A, you symbolize Jesus dying on the cross. As you are lowered into the water, B, you symbolize Jesus buried in the tomb. As you are raised from the water, C, you symbolize Jesus rising from the dead."
    So I take it that the displacement is our 'stand -out identity as disciples of Christ'? And the very act of dying, being buried and rising from the dead... in our lives is the 'supernatural' take, outside the physical and material world.

    So I'm possibly rambling here Father ...
    Anyway, i wanted to let you know that your sharing is insightful and inspires deeper thought. Thank you for that.
    Since you don't approve of "likes", i've found the time and courage to pen my thoughts.

    God love you Father!