Saturday, April 17, 2010

Restoring Eyesight

Psalm 30
Acts 9:1-20
John 21:1-19

Last week I shared my thoughts about the proper utilization of the “authority” granted to the apostles and its use as a means of restoring sinners to a proper and life-sustaining relationship with the Lord and His Church. Being mindful of the awesome nature of such authority, it is to be used not only generously and purposefully but also judiciously lest we find ourselves as much in need of restoration as those we propose to restore.

The readings shared in this week’s lectionary are as much about restoration – or more! – than the authority granted to the apostles and to the Church to forgive or bind sins because what is being revealed to us is not the awesome nature of a Divine Gift but, rather, the essence of the Divine Act, the mighty Hand of the Lord our God. What is further revealed in these readings is the purpose implicit in each of not only the Divine Intervention but also the intent behind each instance of restoration.

The psalmist expresses his gratitude for having been “restored … from among those gone down to the Pit” (Psalm 30:3). Some suggest this was written during a time of severe illness, but it could also express the despair and exasperation we share when we feel overwhelmed and surrounded by less-than-godly influences or when we feel threatened in some way. The psalmist even argues for the uselessness of his death in asking, “Will the dust praise you?” (vs 9) In the end we should be able to see that the psalmist’s life was spared when “mourning” was turned into “dancing” (vs 11). Praise is in order for having been spared. The psalmist clearly believed his life had been spared so that he could continue proclaiming the glory of the Lord.

Saul the persecutor was struck blind by the Lord, but what is more significant in this instance than mere loss of physical eyesight is the spiritual blindness with which he operated, much like the Pharisees, in failing to see the work of YHWH in the continuing ministry of Christ through the apostles. His physical eyesight was restored, of course, but more importantly he was also endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit by which the eyes of his heart were opened and he was enabled to “proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20), at great personal risk, I might add.

Among these readings, however, the greatest story of restoration must be that Peter whose denial of the Lord during His time of trial must surely have weighed heavily on his mind and heart. Notice how the Scripture indicates that Peter eagerly jumped into the water to go to the Lord rather than work with his friends and get the boat ashore. We can reasonably deduce that they were not too far off shore because they were able to determine it was Jesus standing on the shore. Don't you wonder, though, why the heck Peter was naked in the first place?? Wouldn't you just love a fishing budding like this???

Or is there more to what is actually being "exposed" in this reading? Almost certainly Peter needed to be forgiven if for no other reason than that he betrayed a Dear Friend. Is there some underlying meaning to our knowledge of Peter's state of undress in this passage, or is it just incidental? Maybe the writer was too polite to simply say, 'Peter, being the uncouth animal he is, was nekkid when he realized it was Jesus standing on the shore ...' Either way, Peter found it somehow necessary - even in his rush to get to Jesus as quickly as he could - not to be so "exposed" even though he seemed to have no problem with such exposure on the boat. Think about it. If you're going to jump in a lake, would it not make more sense to REMOVE some clothing rather than to add some??

C.S. Lewis is quoted as having once said, " I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." That is to say, he was not exposed to a greater truth when the Lord finally came to Him and changed his life; rather, the greater truth imparted to him enabled him to see things not only as they are but as they could be - and not only through the Lord's eyes but by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is exposure in light just as there is exposure by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we are given such sight for a much greater cause than how quickly we think we can get in line for Heaven's Gate. There is more, much more than meets the eye.

Saul put his own well-being on the line by beginning his ministry in the synagogues after he had been so blessed with the power to "see" something that was always there but which he was not previously allowed or enabled to see, and it is not reasonable to think Saul was the ONLY Pharisee charged with persecuting Christians; hence the great danger. And just as Peter so eagerly ran to Jesus surely filled with joy and anticipation, he soon found himself confronted with that certain reality of faith because the restoration he was about to receive had very little to do with him personally.

Pushed to the point of distress by Jesus in being constantly questioned about the depth of his love for the Lord, Peter surely came to realize there was nothing "personal" at all. After all, it could well be that Peter assumed his willingness to jump from the boat and swim to the Lord was, in and of itself, "proof" of his love for Jesus. Peter was restored not for Peter's own sake but for the sake of the "lambs", the "sheep"; more specifically, the Lord's lambs and sheep. And in so doing, Peter was going to find himself in much more peril than he ever could have imagined than when he ran away from Jesus the first time.

So the question required an answer: Do you love Me? And by what followed in this series of questions, Jesus seemed to be making very clear to Peter that the love He was most interested in is the love that manifests itself in meaningful ways to those for whom the Gospel of Christ has yet to be revealed. It will be an unfortunate consequence for Peter and for so many others who would dare to follow in those footsteps that he will eventually be arrested, tried, convicted, and executed. This does in no way indicate a "personal relationship" for its own sake.

These many generations later, the same question is posed to us: DO YOU LOVE ME? The Lord wants to know because the Lord needs to know whom He can entrust to His flock. He needs to know who among us with failing sight can be trusted and is willing to see far more than we ever imagined before, even if what we will see by the power of the Holy Spirit was always there; we just could not see it. After all, authority is of little use if we cannot see where we are going.

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