Monday, 12 October 2015

Reconciliation: Mending Nets When We Catch Nothing

In the January 17, 2015 issue of The EconomistKAL's cartoon (page 7) depicted the aftermath of what was obviously a bloody battle with dead soldiers strewn around the rubble of the city in which the battle took place. The cartoon depicted three dogs walking through all this destruction, and the one dog says to another: “It all started with an argument over whose God was more peace-loving, kind and forgiving.” The reality is that our newspapers are filled with the consequences of “broken nets.”  How can these nets be mended?

The New Testament reports how one broken net was mended. Peter, whom Jesus had called the Rock upon which he would build his church, had denied and betrayed him. In shame and distress Peter returned to his old trade of fishing, but that night he caught nothing (John 21:3). One wonders how Peter, the Rock, must have felt thinking how he had abandoned his best and most trusted friend, and now he could not even catch a single fish. His life lay in ruins.

The touching story about the resurrected Jesus meeting Peter spells out what to do and not to do when nets have to be mended. Following the unsuccessful fishing expedition, Jesus blessed him with an abundance of fish so that the nets could not hold them; but he did not confront Peter in so many words about his failure; he did not lecture him about how to do better next time; but he asked some fundamental questions that for both were at the root of their relationship. The question was: “Do you love me?” English readers often think that Jesus hammered Peter with the same question three times. It was not the same question three times over. The difference lies in the fact that two different words for love were used: “Agape” and “phile.” Agape connotes a giving or sacrificing of self for the other, while phileexpresses a sense of less demanding friendship, which in modern Greek means “a kiss.” So, what then are the three questions? In the first and second question, Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him to the point of sacrificing himself for Jesus. In both cases, Peter responded that his past was evidence that he was not capable to such total giving of himself to Jesus that might involve giving up his own life for Jesus, but in his responses he affirmed the bond of “phile” love, in effect saying “you are my friend.” In his third question, Jesus picked up the difference and said, OK, Peter, I recognize your point, and, using the word “phile” which Peter had used, he asked in his last question, “do you love me as a friend?” When Peter affirmed that, saying “Lord you know everything (including my denial and betrayal), Jesus said to him: “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked were you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God). And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (See John 21: 1-19). With these last words Jesus reassured Peter that there is nothing wrong with professing phile love at this stage, but that over time this will blossom into agape love.

Does this story tell us something how broken nets might be mended?

So, what then is the approach that can help net menders in our broken world? In the first place, finger pointing and argumentation by would-be net menders achieves nothing. What matters is starting sympathetically where people are, not where they ought to be and not to give up on people after a first failure. That is the “pastoral approach” reaching out to the distressed.

The effect described in the story of Jesus meeting Peter, even without finger pointing and argumentation, is that the beneficiary of Jesus’ care, Peter, was brutally honest with himself, recognizing his failures and limitations. No one had to tell him that in so many words. Jesus' forgiveness and understanding and Peter’s understanding of his situation and his honesty with himself restored a broken relationship.

Would such an approach work in individual Christian congregations when broken nets are in evidence? Would it work among different Christian denominations? Would it work among Christians and non-Christians? Would it work in purely secular settings? Would it work in strained relations among countries?

If so, what is stopping us from pursuing such an approach?

Guest Blogger: Thank you to my father, Gunter Rochow, for sharing as my guest blogger. I really appreciate your insight on this important reconciliation topic. I think it's something that we all need to hear and meditate upon.

Photo Credit: Bob Garlick (Flickr Creative Commons). The photographer says that the picture was taken in the Granville area of Vancouver, BC, Canada. What drew me to the picture was the pain in that little girl's face; it gripped my heart and brought tears to my face. It made me wonder about modern "runaways," who like Peter in the post above, also are often "catching nothing," other than a few miserable coins in their beggar's cap.

Perhaps in some ways, I'm a "runaway" too. Perhaps in some ways, I too have missed catching all that God has for me. Again, as suggested in the post, it's not about pointing fingers as to the "why" they're there or what we may perceive that they did wrong. Rather it's about sharing the unconditional "agape" love of Jesus, because their nets need mending too, just like yours and mine often need mending. Maybe, just maybe, that little girl will one day also meet the resurrected Jesus ... and she'll meet Him in you or me. Do we care? If so, what is stopping us from actually doing something about it? I wonder.

Something to think about. Peace and blessings.

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