Fully Restored to Restore Others
“It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).
This story from John, like Luke’s story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, summarizes the emerging understanding of the risen Jesus by the early Church. Just as Luke’s account explains the role of suffering in the mission of Jesus, the account of the encounter between the disciples and Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias reveals that forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel.
Peter has been prepared to lead the Apostles not by his success but by his failure. Proud, boastful Peter falls apart in crisis and denies three times that he even knows Jesus, who then dies on the cross. Peter must bear the terrible burden of his cowardice with no chance to seek forgiveness from his dead friend. In his own mind, he is beyond redemption, the greatest sinner of all. How can he ever reconcile this with Jesus’ confidence in him?
The triple protestations of love Peter makes around a charcoal fire on the beach (so like the fire on that fateful night in the court of the Sanhedrin), delves deeper and deeper into Peter’s conscience. The wound of his denial must be opened up all over again before the balm of unconditional love and healing can be applied.
This is the very Gospel Jesus asks him to carry to others. God forgives every failure, God is merciful to sinners, even the greatest among them. Jesus revives Peter from his prolonged grief and regret to enable him to preach from his own bitter experience of the overwhelming graciousness of God.
When Pope Francis speaks of himself as a sinner, or says that God first showed him mercy and then called him, he is confessing a profound truth from his own personal conversion experience. Mercy is the foundation of his recovery of the radical Gospel.
Only when we encounter God in a similar way, crying out from our failures and sinfulness, will we understand the joy of the Gospel, the homecoming of the Prodigal Son, the liberation from self-destructive lives that the tax collectors and prostitutes experienced in Jesus. Only when we have fished all night and caught nothing will we know the dawn of hope that Jesus alone can bring us.