SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 25:13-21; PS 102:1-2,11-12,19-20; JN 21:15-19 ]
Most of us have great ideals. When we are not in charge, we like to criticize those who are in charge. We criticize the government, church leaders, our bosses and our parents as well. We always feel that they are not doing what they should be doing. We feel that they are backward, outdated, out-of-touch, not responsive to situations, etc. We feel that our parents do not know how to live out their marriage; that they do not know how to raise their children. We seem to have all the answers. We are just waiting for that day when we can take over their job and show them what they should do. We have great aspirations and hope that we can change lives and make a real difference in society. When President Obama took office, he called for “change.” When President Trump took office, he said, “I will make America great again!” When the Korean President took office, in a similar vein he said, “I will build a new nation. I will make a great Korea, a proud Korea!”
But the reality is that when the day comes for us to take over, we will realize that it is not so easy after all. Even President Trump, after 100 days in office, regretted when he remarked, “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” Indeed, those of us who are married today have come to realize that marriage is not a bed of roses, and that building relationship with our spouse is a challenging task, and looking after our children is sometimes an impossible task! What more if one has to deal with difficult in-laws or elderly members at home. So too all those who assume office, whether in the government, in church or any corporation or organization, will face the same challenges. Many bishops and priests become jaded after assuming office for a while, because it so difficult to get anything moving or get everyone to agree on anything. Church members too become disillusioned because of the bureaucracy in the Church. The list goes on and on.
This too was the case for the apostles and Paul. They too had great dreams for Israel. Peter wanted to die for Jesus and follow Him wherever He went. Peter declared, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Mt 26:33) Again, he repeated, “I will lay down my life for you.” (Jn 13:37) Yet, when the time came for Peter to prove himself, he vehemently denied that he knew Christ when a maid or a servant identified him as one of His followers. So too were the rest of the apostles. All of them fled when Jesus was arrested. Only John was at the foot of the cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus and some other women. James and John once told Jesus that they were ready to drink the cup that He was to drink. (cf Mt 20:22)
Indeed, like all those before us, along the way, we find that our ideals cannot be reached. There are too many constraints. It is easy for us to give great advice to those in positions of authority because we see things from our own narrow perspective and lack the breadth of their views. We think we have the solution to all their problems. But often we do not realize that every leader and every person in office is faced with certain limitations in terms of manpower, resources and finance. No one can do whatever he likes, not even the President of the United States or the Pope!
That too was the experience of the Roman governor, Festus, in today’s first reading as well. He took over from Felix and also the case of Paul that was not yet settled. Unlike Felix, Festus was a just and honest governor. He wanted to do the right thing. The Jews wanted him to condemn Paul to death. But he knew that Paul did not do anything that warranted a death sentence. He knew that the Jews were jealous of him and felt threatened by him over some religious disagreement. As he was not comfortable in making a judgement on Paul, he proposed that Paul be tried at Jerusalem since it was a religious matter. But Paul knew very well that the judgment in Jerusalem would not be fair and just. Instead, he appealed to Rome for judgement. We can be sure that Festus was in one way relieved that he did not have to make a bad judgment as he did not want to offend the Jews at the start of his office.
That is why we must learn to be humble and be more realistic. It is easy to talk big when we are not in charge or in the situation. It is easy to dish out great advice when we are not in it. St Peter learned a great lesson. He was totally humbled by his sin of apostasy. He was so ashamed of himself for denying Christ. If not for Jesus, he could never have forgiven himself for what he did. He never realized that he was such a coward after all. So when Jesus met him again, He asked Peter, “do you love me more than these others do?” If this question was in reference to his profession as a fisherman, an invitation to follow Jesus by giving up everything, including his trade, he might have given a positive answer. But most likely, it was a question of whether he loved Jesus more than the rest of the disciples. This time, Peter was no longer cocky and dismissive. He no longer wished to compare himself with others. And so the reply was simply, “’Yes Lord, you know I love you.” He did not dare to say that he loved Jesus most. Furthermore, Peter was realistic in his love for the Lord. When Jesus asked him whether he loved him in an “agape” manner, that is total, unconditional, complete, self-sacrificing, Peter replied with the word, “phileo”, that is love of a friend. Again, based on his past experience, Peter was more realistic about his commitment to the Lord. He was no more full of himself. It was better for him to just say to Jesus that He knew how much he loved Him. He would love Jesus as much as he could. “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”
Indeed, we see how Peter was healed by the threefold affirmation of love for the Lord. Jesus gave him the chance to redeem himself by overwriting his threefold denial. Above all, Jesus now had greater confidence in him by appointing him as the shepherd of his sheep. Earlier on Jesus told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” (Jn 13:36) But after his restoration, the Lord not only asked him to feed and look after His lambs and sheep, but He said to Peter, “Follow me.” Only those who have been healed of their pride and arrogance could be great leaders for the Lord. Otherwise, arrogance in leadership will destroy them and those whom they are leading. Whilst it is important for leaders to have great dreams, they must learn humility and realism. We cannot do everything we hope to do. Peter no longer was obstinate and insistent on having his own way. The Lord said, “I tell you most solemnly, 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 round you and take you where you would rather not go.”
Indeed, the ways of God are not ours. “The Lord has set his sway in heaven and his kingdom is ruling over all.” Though James and John did not get to sit on the right and left hand of the throne of Jesus, they did drink the cup eventually. James was later beheaded. John was sent to exile and although he did not suffer martyrdom, he offered his whole life for the gospel. Peter was beheaded as well. The evangelist noted, “In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God.” St Paul too never realized that his dream of bringing the gospel to the ends of the world could be fulfilled. He never expected that circumstances would happen in such a way that he was literally brought to Rome to proclaim the Gospel. The ways of God are unimaginable. Man proposes but God disposes.
What we need to do is simply to surrender our lives to Him. We must allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Our mission is dependent on the Holy Spirit. Success is not just our work but that of divine plan and providence. Jesus too surrendered His mission to the Holy Spirit at His death on the cross. So all we need to do is to cooperate with His grace at every step in our lives. God will lead the way. We cannot determine the end or the outcome because it is the grace of God. Let us listen to the Lord, “Follow me!”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.