By Giuseppe Gagliano
When St. Peter did not know what else to do, he went fishing. Today, we found him in a state of deep confusion, having witnessed the resurrected Christ come and go. With the other disciples, he is suspended on the waters of Lake Tiberias, trying to make their catch. And we see a dramatic encounter with Christ that acts like a mirror of Peter’s redemption.
I’d like to point out a few interesting points in this story. It seems as though Peter is reliving the events from the death and resurrection of Jesus. For instance, when Peter recognizes his Lord on the shore, he plunges himself into the sea and swims ashore. His fellow disciples drag in the boat behind him. This is rather similar to how Peter found the empty tomb. As John stopped at the tomb’s entrance, Peter barged right inside, rash and without thought.
Similarly, when Peter gets to the shore, Christ had prepared food to eat, nothing but bread and fish. Perhaps Peter remembered this meal, which Jesus had multiplied many months before, to feed 5,000 onlookers. And, not only that, but Jesus has also cooked this food over a charcoal fire. It was by such a fire that Peter warmed himself when he was asked if he knew Jesus. By the flames of charcoal, Peter had denied Jesus three times.
And then, once they had eaten together, Jesus asked Simon Peter three questions. He asked three times whether Peter loved him. Three times: just like the three denials. And Peter answered thrice: yes, he loved the Lord.
What we have before us is a wonderful recapitulation of previous events. In other words, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter undergoes a series of mirror events, recalling the days before Jesus’ glorious act. By a charcoal fire, he had denied Christ thrice, and a few days later he barged into a stone tomb. Now, he swam ashore with that same excitement, and affirmed his love for Christ three times by a charcoal fire.
This idea of recapitulation is crucial to how the Bible speaks, and how God acts in the world. Recapitulation is the notion that old events are replayed again, but with a different twist. A perfect example of this is when St. Paul speaks of Adam’s fall. By a human being, sin came into the world; so by a human being, in Jesus Christ, it must be vanquished.
Or consider how the Scriptures describe the end of all things as a banquet hosted by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. This is a recapitulation of the Last Supper that he shared with his disciples, which is, in turn, a recapitulation of the Passover when the Hebrew people were slaves in Egypt.
I hope you find this at least mildly interesting, but there is something more going on than just a feature of literature. I propose that this is a fundamental feature of how redemption works. We might think that in order make our actions right, we need to simply stop doing what is wrong. For instance, to stop stealing, we need to hold our hands at bay. Or to stop lying, we need to shut our mouths. But that is not really how redemption works: there is a kind of mirror image at play, of the same action but with a reverse order. To not steal is to give; to not lie is to fight for truth. Peter didn’t say “I’m sorry” by the new charcoal fire; he didn’t just shut his mouth in respect; he didn’t even say “I know you” instead of “I don’t know him”; he said, in fearless adoration and full knowledge, “I love you.”
Our redemption, I believe, will not be something completely outside of our scope. In fact, it will look like the moment of our fall — but redeemed, changed, renewed, rectified. The disease and the cure will look almost the same, as one is the corrupted form of the other. Redemption, perhaps, is like looking in a mirror: it’s in the same shape and form, but with a reverse orientation. Or perhaps it is like how, when we dream, we recall the events of our day in a strange and corrupted order. Redemption is like the dream happening first, and then the fullness of real life.
So, what would this look like practically? I think we can all recognize our shortcomings, those things for which we need God’s abundant grace. And when we address those shortcomings, hoping to be better people, we may try to “stop” doing what we’re doing. What I propose to you is not simply to stop doing what is wrong, but to take that wrong act, and the desires that drive it, and reverse its orientation. Take the energy put into your weakness and place it instead in its mirror image.
God does not work by scrapping what is old and replacing it with the new. That is not redemption. Redemption is when God takes the old and, by his love, transforms it into what is new. We do not have to be someone else in order for us to be saved. We are exactly who we are supposed to be, created and loved by God. And each one of our shortcomings is the mirror of what ought to be, of what we should strive to be, of what, by God’s grace, we may one day become.
By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, let us look to him as our mirror: a perfected and glorious humanity. And just as he rose, may we, by his grace, also rise to newness of life.
The Rev. Guiseppe Gagliano is a priest who serves in the Anglican Diocese of Quebec’s St. Francis Regional Ministry in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.