Awake to the crisp dawn’s rising in your life
1. Peter avoids the impossible, returns to his former occupation
As this crisp new day dawned in John 21: 1-17, Peter and his six friends return to their former life in the fishing profession; out with the fishing licence, tools of trade, boat and nets. Peter’s influential leadership qualities emerge, his six friends eagerly join him.
What is happening here? On the surface of things, we have no indication as to why Peter has done this, or how he feels about recent events: denial, betrayal and crucifixion.
Being part of that former community of Jesus seems to have become impossible to sustain. From a family systems perspective, has the heightened anxiety influenced Peter to distance himself from the scene of failure? Has the cause of Jesus disappointed him? And is his strategy of denial to over-function, to lose himself in his pre-occupation with fishing?
2. Jesus the healer seeks to awaken the impossible possibility
What Peter avoids and denies, his embarrassment, shame, Jesus seeks to re-awaken and bring back to life, an impossible possibility.
In this story not only does the crucified-risen Jesus “show himself” to Peter, but he “shows” or reveals Peter to himself, his denials, failures and his possibilities in a deep and significant way. Otherwise, Peter won’t see Jesus.
The ancient world had its own “psychologists” and “psychoanalysts”, the wise holistic healers, of mind, body, soul, spirit and community, wise in the arts of facilitating total well-being. The term “therapy” is a Greek word meaning “to cure, to heal”, and this in a holistic sense, mind, body and spirit, and a community in suffering and disarray.
Jesus the holistic healer appears to Peter with a well-formed strategy to walk with him in his re-turn to new life. As modern psychoanalysis informs us, and as Jesus knew, unless this traumatic memory is released it will damage Peter’s body, mind, heart and his relationship to Jesus and the discipleship community.
3. Jesus awakens Peter to the crisp dawn’s rising of a new day
At first, Jesus appears to be a stranger, unrecognised. Yet, he greets them as friends and advises them how to catch fish.
Then, as a crisp new day breaks, Jesus confronts him with a charcoal fire, a material symbol, similar to the fire over which Peter huddled when he denied Jesus three times. What Peter has repressed deep into his memory is now lured back: back to memory through his senses – visually seeing the fire, its smoke filling his nostrils, hearing its crackle and spit – mentally recalling its similarity to that other shame-enflamed fire, exposing feelings of guilt.
Finally, we have that memorable scene, after breakfast, in which Jesus indirectly, yet intentionally leads Peter back into his three-times denial of Jesus, by probingly asking him three times whether he loves Jesus. John informs us that Peter’s third response was cathartic, boiling over with embarrassment and strong emotion.
Three times Peter has not loved Jesus, and resurrection grace three-times confronts yet empowers Peter, through love, to face, process and overcome failure, shame and embarrassment. Resurrection grace and love always seeks to engage and heal the unconscious – yet “hidden in plain sight” – aspects of life where denials, shame and guilt may fester in the inner life, in the anxious self, and in the interpersonal, familial, communal, social, political and national realities of our everyday existence.
Rev Vladimir Korotkov