My favorite post-resurrection story in John’s gospel is what I call “breakfast on the beach.” (JN 21) It’s the one that finds the disciples having fished all night long and caught nothing. Jesus appears and calls out to them from the shore to cast their nets to the other side for a catch. Although they don’t recognize that it’s Jesus making this suggestion and they do mention that they’ve been at it all night, they actually do what he asks! As soon as they do and have a great number of fish in the net Peter yells, “It is the Lord!” and jumps out of the boat to get to him as fast as possible. Then Jesus cooks breakfast for them – as if all is right with the world. I like that part because it makes Jesus seem so human, seeking out his friends and wanting to feed them with food and love. But that’s not the end of the story.
Today’s selection is JN 21:15-19 which follows the meal. Jesus starts asking Peter, “Do you love me?” He asks three times even though Peter gives the right answer on the first try. “Yes, I do.” By the third time Peter is wondering what this game is about and says in a rather frustrated voice, “You know everything! You know I love you!” Jesus has been indicating that this is more than a game as each time Peter answers he tells him to “feed my sheep” – actually what he has just done in cooking breakfast – but obviously something more serious than feeding the physical body. This is the part that holds a lesson for us and gets more real for me with every passing year. Jesus says to Peter, “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.”
There are two ways in which this statement is significant for me. We live in a time when we are living longer and often are alive because of the advances in medical science. Some of us are part of the “sandwich generation” – taking care of children or grandchildren as well as our aged parents, dressing and feeding and otherwise spending ourselves in love for them. It isn’t easy but can be incredibly rewarding. At the same time, those of us in the middle of the sandwich are feeling our own aging process and need to “stretch out our arms” in surrender to what we know as diminishment of our capacities, both physical and otherwise. That can sometimes be more difficult than caring for others, since it involves giving up of control. We, in the United States, find it hard to admit advancing age because we are bombarded with products that will erase our wrinkles, dye our hair and restore bone growth assuring us that we can resist the onset of old age. Eventually we must look deeper for a solution and learn from those cultures who revere the wisdom of the old, celebrating the wrinkles and finding strength in acceptance.
Today my prayer will focus on gratitude for those elders who have given me good example of growing old gracefully and on willingness to accept the lessons that are coming to me in what I hope to call my “golden years” even though they are accompanied by challenges that I would rather not face.