easily led? (petertide reflections)

15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. 18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

John 21: 15-19

I subscribe to the online website unherd, which to quote its mission statement, ‘…aims to do two things: to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places.’

When I was a teenager my mother used to say that I was ‘easily led’. She was right. In our teenage years and early adulthood many of us have a sense of being alone in the world. Lost. Like a sheep without a shepherd. At that age it is so easy for us to latch on to someone perhaps older or more socially empowered than ourselves, sometimes to our detriment.

Twenty five years ago on Saturday (last) I was ordained into the Diaconate, which is for most Anglican clergy a one year transitional stage before being ordained a Priest a year later (although one is always a Deacon – servant).

Deacons and Priests are ordained during Petertide (the Sunday nearest to St Peter’s Day on 29 June and to the period around that day) in recognition of Peter the Apostle.

You might remember the story of Peter’s denial, recorded in all four Gospel accounts. In John’s Gospel we see Peter still following Jesus as he is led away by the Temple guards to the High Priest’s residence. Peter is accompanied by another disciple, thought to be John.

John gains access to the High Priest’s courtyard because, the scripture says, the ‘other disciple’ (John) is known to the High Priest. Peter is kept outside, which given what we know of Peter’s character, would probably have angered him. Eventually John persuades one of the High Priest’s servants to let Peter in.

Once inside the courtyard, three times Peter is challenged as to whether he is a disciple (follower) of Jesus. Three times he denies that he is. The first time is he is asked by the servant girl at the door. The second two times are after Jesus is questioned, assaulted and led away to the Roman procurator, Pilate. The situation is getting heavier by the minute. Peter is scared. Powerless. This account, when I read it, always discomforts me, because I can imagine myself doing the same.

You would have thought it was all over for Peter. He’s denied Jesus. Surely there’s no going back from that? Peter the Rock. Chief disciple. Possessor of the Keys to the Kingdom. Didn’t he say previously, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matthew 26: 35) ?

The other disciples might have run away in haste, but Peter has run away in his heart. Perhaps no one in that courtyard, no one around that fire would have admitted to being a follower of Jesus? Maybe John wasn’t asked, who knows?

What we do know is that Peter is no longer following Jesus at this point. Quite literally in denial, he is following the herd. Like the ‘Son of Jonah’ he is, Peter is running in the other direction.

The mood has turned against Jesus, as the crowds would in the following days. The very same crowds who had welcomed Him into the city with such aplomb earlier that week. The madness of crowds.

“Men (sic), it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

― Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841

This is Peter’s dissolution. His restitution would come a week or so later, when it is all over. After Jesus is betrayed, denied, tried, tormented, humiliated, tortured to death and buried. After the sky turns black and the Temple curtain is torn in two. After the end.

And after the end, the Beginning. The sun rising over a dewy graveyard. A tomb stone rolled away. A woman returning to a house of mourning. “I have seen the Lord”, she says to an incredulous gathering. Then later that day in that same house the Lord appears among them displaying His wounds and bestowing His peace.

Standing on the shore by a lake, Jesus appears once more, cooking a fish breakfast. Here on this lonely beach Jesus restores and reinstates Peter in his role as first among Apostles and equals.

Three denials. Three entrustments.

“Do you love me?”, saith the Lord. Then, feed, tend, and feed some more. In this follow me, the Good and Great Shepherd.

In this moment Peter is transformed from the herded to The (Good) Herder. For those of us who are ordained into the Church of God as ministers (of any tradition or denomination), we are called to follow Peter’s example as ones who are called to ‘pastor’ the flock/herd.

There is always a temptation for us to follow – rather than pastor – the herd. To jump aboard the latest bandwagon, making prejudgements and pronouncements, even before the dust has settled.

Remember how Jesus wrote in the dust when He was invited to make a prejudgement on the woman caught in adultery?

 “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

John 8: 4-6

Imagine the the scene. A mad crowd herded together. Quick to condemn. Rocks at the ready. Dust in the air.

The thing about dust is that it obscures our vision. Jesus bends down and writes in the dust. What He is writing we do not know. Maybe He is simply doodling, letting the dust settle?

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