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?


  1. Hi Chris

    Thanks for your wonderful insights. Just thought I'd share a little of what I learnt in Scripture school with you. It came in handy today at Mass. Hope it's helpful.


    7th Week of Easter Friday
    We have a problem understanding what went on between Jesus and Peter in this morning’s gospel text. To the uninitiated, it may look as if Jesus was some insecure person who needs to hear over and over and over again if Peter loved him. And of course, that’s not the issue. It’s all about language. It’s not even much about giving Peter the chance of recovering from denying Jesus three times.
    The Greek have different types of words that describe the different levels of love. In the Greek text of today’s gospel, there are two words used by Jesus and Peter. One is Agape (used by Jesus) and the other is Philia (used by Peter). But in English, it only comes out as ‘love’.
    Permit me to present it in the way it would have been understood in Greek.
    Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do? He answered “Yes Lord, you know that I am fond of you”. Jesus said to him “feed my lambs”.
    A second time he said to him ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I am fond of you’ Jesus said to him ‘Look after my sheep’. Then he said to him a third time ‘Simon son of John, are you fond of me?’
    In other words, Jesus starts inviting Peter to a high level of love because God loves at a high level. But Peter is incapable of that. He can only love on the level of being fond of Jesus. But the beautiful part of this is that Jesus comes down to his level after having invited him to love at the higher level. Jesus sees that Peter is incapable of meeting him there, so he meets Peter at his level of fondness.
    That’s the humility of Jesus, and it shows us the humility of God’s love. He didn’t need to become one of us. He didn’t need to forgive us. He didn’t even need to create us. But he did, because he loves us. And this awesome reality must hit us one day. If not today, then maybe one day when your heart is open. And when it does, it will totally change the way you live and the way you love, because you will see that all that you are comes from a God who is utterly generous and totally giving. And that will want to make you be generous and giving too.

  2. In a way I can empathise with today's reflection. Not too long ago, in our unrestrained youth, the world is our oyster. Carefree, feeling invincible and with reckless abandon.
    With age, there is more time for reflection and mincing through life in community. Like Paul, we lose our ego in replacment of "the other". We tend to be more focused in the twilight years on what counts.
    Therein lies the rub. We coast through our life in our teens, then repeat the same rebellious pattern witnessed through each generation. For some of us we are blessed with the opportunity to turn into old wine. The wineskin is suitably primed.
    Can we work towards selfless love - I guess not without the grace of God, our giver and the source of our being. It's so hard and we often forget to try harder.

  3. "How old in the Spirit are we today?"

    If I count the number of years since my baptism, I'm still a teenager. ;-) Yes, I want to grow "old" in wisdom and selflessness. However, given a choice, I'd like to retain the spontaneity, openness and sincerity of a child. DIdn't Jesus say, "If you do not change your hearts and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3)?

    "When you grow old... somebody else will lead you where you would rather not go."

    To me, a lot depends on who that "someone else" is? I want to be led by the Holy Spirit. But if that "someone else" is a not-so-good spirit, then no way, man! The next question then is, how do I discern correctly which spirit is trying to lead me?

  4. Oooh Fr Luke, another potent reflection! Many thanks. I never tried substituting 'love' with 'filios' and 'agape' to get under the skin of this all-too-familiar Gospel passage. You've opened the eyes of my heart.

    "And when it does, it will totally change the way you live and the way you love, because you will see that all that you are comes from a God who is utterly generous and totally giving. And that will want to make you be generous and giving too."

    Amen. Indeed, the person that I am today is different from the person I was yester-year because grace was able to permeate my life through small cracks that fellow believers like you have created. I'm nowhere as generous as I can be, but by grace, I know the promptings and the inspirations will never end! Veni Sancte Spiritus

    PS: do you have your own blogsite? :)

  5. From the notes in the New Jerusalem Bible: "'Love' is expressed in the text by two different verbs which denote respectively love and friendship or cherishing. But it is unclear whether this is anything more than a stylistic variation. Similarly with the variation 'lambs' - 'sheep'.

    From Peake's Commentary on the Bible:
    "In the first two questions 'love' represents the Greek word "agapan"; in the last question, and in all the answers, it represents "philein". It is sometimes supposed that a difference is intended, but this seems unlikely; cf. e.g. 14:23 ('agapan') and 16:27 ('philein')."


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