Sunday, April 21, 2013
Becoming Young with Age
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 2013
In the last part of the Gospel passage that we hear today, Jesus speaks to Peter, who he has just fully forgiven after his betrayal, about the way that his life will now unfold. He says “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
It has been suggested that this passage applies to all who follow in the footsteps of Peter as pope. We might think of the recent election of Pope Francis and how he was dressed in the white cassock by others and led to the loggia where he would begin a very challenging ministry.
But, this passage, I think, can and should actually be understood as significant for all of us. Look at what Jesus is doing: he is reversing the normal order of things. Normally when you are young, you stretch out your hands and someone else dresses you and leads you where you do not want to go. Then, when you are old, you dress yourself and go where you want.
So Christ is, in effect, telling Peter, that his love of Christ, his path of discipleship will give him the faith of a child. And the same applies to all of us: in loving Christ, in responding to his question “do you love me” with a true “Yes Lord, you know that I love you,” we too, become more like children, we love more like children.
How does a childlike disciple love God? As Christ said: by obeying and by being clothed by Him. And we see evidence of how childlike Peter’s love for Christ became in the first reading today: He tells the Sanhedrin “We must obey God rather than men.” That almost sounds to me like “My mommy doesn’t let me do that.” Peter is very articulate as he explains the Good News of Christ, but in the end, the final motivation for Peter is clear: he must obey Christ. That is what his love of Christ demands, obedience. And this is very childlike.
And then we see that after he and the others are flogged, they rejoice, the author of Acts tells us, to be have been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus’ name. And this also reminds us of children and how much they desire to be associated with those they love, to be, in a sense, clothed by them, to be visibly and tangibly connected to those they love. It is not just any dad, but my daddy. Even when they must endure many hardships, children will do just about anything in order to belong to a family. And this is also a childlike love of Christ, a love that rejoices in belonging to Christ, even when that requires suffering.
Do we love Jesus as Children? Do we rejoice to belong to him, to be associated with his name? Do we seek above all things to be obedient to him and his will for us?
At youth ministry last week we read this same passage from the scriptures about Peter jumping out of the boat after hearing that it was Christ on the shore. One of the kids said, “Hey, that reminds me of that scene in Forest Gump.”
And it got me thinking about Forest Gump, who exhibited this same abandon as he jumped into the water, and about how he was such a portrait of a childlike love. Think of his unquestioning obedience throughout the movie, and his steadfast devotion and intense desire to be associated with his Jenny.
Now these traits of childlike love do not mean that we leave behind reason when we deepen our faith, that somehow faith and sophistication and intelligence are opposed. Yet it can happen that as we grow older the complexity and subtlety of our reasoning develops improperly into the sophisticated ability to rationalize an insubordinate or lukewarm response to God.
Christ tells us that the opposite progression characterizes the Christian disciple who is animated by God’s love. That because of our love for Christ, our age and wisdom strengthens our obedience to the will of God and our desire to belong to Christ and to be associated with his name.