Friday, May 09, 2008
Friday in the 7th Week of Easter
How Old Are You?
Readings: Acts 25:13b-21; Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab; John 21:15-19
Picture: CC dark_ghetto28
This may sound like a silly question, but if given a choice, which would you prefer to be, young or old? We are probably well aware of the pros and cons, of course. We know about the vigor of youth and the gradual diminishment that comes inevitably with advancing age. And, although there are probably notable exceptions to the rule, we are likely to have witnessed the idealism and naiveté of the young, in contrast with the wisdom and experience of the elderly. So, if given a choice, which would you prefer to be?
Before we answer the question, however, it is important to realize that it is the conversation between Peter and Jesus in today’s gospel that proposes it for our consideration. I tell you most solemnly, says Jesus, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go. Jesus is speaking of something beyond chronological age. Even so, what is our reaction to his words? What feelings are evoked in us? What images are brought to our minds?
We may think first of some biblical images. We may think of Paul in his youth, when he was still known as Saul, riding zealously to Damascus on horseback, convinced that he was serving God by persecuting Christians (e.g., Acts 22:3-5). When you were young… you walked where you liked. In contrast, there is the Paul of today’s first reading, already far advanced in the years of the Lord, imprisoned by the governor at Caesarea and waiting to be sent to eventual martyrdom in Rome. We may think also of the still youthful Peter at the Last Supper, brimming with self-confidence as he declares before his friends that he will lay down his life for his Master (e.g., Jn 13:37). And, in striking contrast, there is the Peter of today’s gospel. It’s probably only been a matter of days since the Last Supper, but already the experience of the Easter Triduum has aged Peter beyond his years. Lord, you know everything… And, as tradition has it, like Paul, Peter too will be martyred in Rome. And can we not think also of Jesus, the One who was already aged – or, to be more accurate, already eternal – even from his mother’s womb? Are we not reminded of him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking that the cup of suffering be taken away from him, but only if it be the Father’s will (e.g., Matthew 26:39)? When you grow old... somebody else will take you where you would rather not go.
And, pondering these images from the scriptures, might we not also recall images from our daily lives? How about the person who leaves spouse and children in order to pursue apparent personal fulfillment? Or, in contrast, how about the person who continues to care for a chronically ill spouse even when there are possibilities of starting a new life with someone else? No doubt, yet other images will quite easily be brought to mind, images of youth as well as images of age.
But what is significant about these images is not just the fact that the aged are led where they would rather not go. Far more important is what it is that leads them, the very same thing that forms the crux of Jesus’ conversation with Peter today. Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do? And to understand the power of this question, we must also consider the context in which it is asked, the context of Jesus’ Dying and Rising, as well as of Peter’s denial and resultant remorse. For it is only through his experience of this Mystery that Peter is able not only to give Jesus the right reply but also to answer in the right way, in a way that opens him to receive the power to live out the implications of Christ’s love for him. This same power is what we have been praying for in these days. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the love that exists between the Father and the Son. It is the love that matures us in the Father's service. If you love me… Feed my lambs… Look after my sheep… Feed my sheep… If you love me, be willing to grow old for my sake… even to the extent of being led where you’d rather not go…
How old in the Spirit are we today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 10:33 am