Sooner or later, I am going to get this series portion on failure right. I have tried it without Scriptural text. I have tried it with the wrong texts. Now, I try it with a text I think is the right one.
It is hard to fail at failure, right?
Ok, big, deep, cleansing breath.
Simon Peter is the biggest failure of the Apostolic band. He is also, arguably, its greatest success, unless you count Saul-Paul, who has his own failure/success issues.
In the rich, celebrative John 21 passage (quoted at length yesterday), wherein Jesus reconciles with Peter's failures, our Lord must face the self-condemnation of Peter, who has denied Jesus during His trial. Peter's is a failure of courage, a failure of conscience, a stone cold failure of comprehension. Peter's failure being what it is his final decision is to go back to square one. He will re-embrace the work where Jesus found him.
Yes, the language of the John 21 passage overwhelms the incidentals of its action. Readers (myself included, myself foremost) get so caught up in the compelling dialog (Peter, do you love me?) we may miss the setting. We lift the dialog out of the setting (I am chief of sinners). The point is then made without recourse to context. Disaster ensues.
Yes, the first two times Jesus asks Peter about love in John 21, Jesus uses the word agape in His question. Each time Peter answers honestly, humanly, humbly with the word philo, a worthy love among humans but a lesser affection than Jesus allowed. Yes, the third time Jesus asks Peter about his personal love of Christ, Jesus changes His language to that of Peter, using philo, for brotherly love, in effect, asking Peter if he even loves Jesus the way he claims.
This is the time Peter is hurt. He is hurt because he is guilty of past failure and present desertion. Peter fails Jesus so consistently he cannot claim meaningful discipleship. Peter feels enormous affection for Jesus (who wouldn't?) but Peter cannot claim he "gets it?"
And, a compelling failure, he wants to be left alone to go to Hell.
Jesus' questions are analytical. The analysis is diagnostic, so his commands can be prescriptive.
We only need to know this story, read its dialog, walk through its setting, if we ever fail spiritually. In particular, we need to see this setting only if our personal, felt needs in failure make us want to leave the whole pathetic mess and just be left alone.
How in this world, or the next, can we argue reasonably about the non-verifiable? Religion is nonsense on its face. Most churches are toxic and their parishioners poisoned by proximity.
Christianity is alone among the major religions in various ways. Here is one: the object of our devotion is Himself derided as a humilating failure.
His faith builds in no protections for His reputation. No fatwah will be issued against his tormentors. Demote Jesus from "divine son" to "notable teacher of prophetic message." Heads will nod, rather than roll.
Jesus is just a big loser.
That is, according to history.
See what happens when we lift dialog out of context?
I find it impossible now to translate this dialog out of its setting. Jesus seems absent to Peter. As soon as Jesus gets out of the picture, Peter launches his scheme to get out of the ministry. He is going back to commercial fishing.
He will take some folks with him.
Peter leads a church split in the Real Christian Church.
And, Jesus, the Great Failure (cursed is the man who dies on a tree) will not let him get away with it.
Tuesday, we will say what Jesus says about this betrayal.
Opinions expressed here are mine alone.