It seems odd to read a post-Easter story so soon after the pre-birth and nativity stories of Jesus. With the feast of St. John, however, we look not at a chronology but rather selected scriptures that speak to, about, or by John whom we believe is the “Beloved Disciple.”
It is a familiar story of Jesus cooking breakfast and the disciples joining him on the beach, bringing with them an exceptionally large quantity of fish. There is the dialog between Peter and Jesus as to whether Peter loves Jesus that is repeated three times, once for each of Peter’s denials after Jesus’ arrest. Jesus tells Peter after each affirmation to “Feed my sheep” or “Feed my lambs.” Peter was to lead the disciples in the days to come and that he was to ensure the extended flock was cared for.
Then Jesus told him something unexpected, something beyond just taking care of Jesus’ little flock. In the past, Peter had a choice in where he was to go but that would not be the case in the future. Jesus was preparing Peter for a life that was not going to be smooth sailing and would often be out of his control and would eventually lead to his death by martyrdom..
Jesus and Peter were walking away from the group at the fire when Peter noticed John following them and asked Jesus, “What about him?” Was it concern for John’s fate or was it more like “If I’m going to face death, is he going to face the same thing?” Whichever Peter meant by his query, Jesus informed him that he had plans for John that Peter didn’t need to know about. In short, “Pay attention to your own path and let John do the same for his.”
When we were young we had plans, lots of plans, as to what we would do, where we would go, who we would be with, and the future looked bright with possibilities. Some of those hopes and dreams may have actually come true but probably many youthful plans did not. Still, we had control over much of our lives and that is what we ultimately wanted. As we age, we find that oftentimes we are less and less in control and that can be excruciatingly frustrating. We try to stay as active and vital as we were when we were in our younger years but joints get creaky, organs malfunction or become weakened, and the mind often seems like a sieve with too many holes. It is then that we often reach the point where we stop being able to go where we want to and have to either rely on someone else to help us or we wind up in a place we thought was just for old people. Then we realize we are the old people.
One thing about age, it gives you more time to think. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, it can be a very good one. We care a little less about pleasing other people and, if we’re wise, care more about pleasing God. We have to accept things that would have been unthinkable a few years or decades ago. We have a bit more time to think and pray, and more experience to offer as guidance for others we may encounter on the life journey. We can’t walk their journey for them, but we can perhaps help make it a smoother one for them.
What if Peter had actually been told exactly what was to happen to him and likewise what John’s life would be like? Would he have chosen death by martyrdom over imprisonment but dying of natural causes? Perhaps it’s pure wisdom that Jesus was offering Peter–do what you yourself need to do today. Jesus has a plan for each person, and while we can be concerned about another, they have their own plan and journey.
I wonder — what would it be like if we could get turn-by-turn directions to God on GPS? I wonder how it would change the journey.
Icon by Lynn Runnels used by permission of the artist