Our Scripture readings have me thinking about movies with twist endings. Now, I can’t go too far in depth about these things without giving away massive spoilers. But some notable movies with twist endings include Planet of the Apes, The Usual Suspects, Citizen Kane, Memento, The Sixth Sense, or even something like ? There could even be someone here who doesn’t know the massive plot twist in The Empire Strikes Back! There’s something about a twist story, that the story ends in a place that you didn’t expect it to, which keeps one’s intrigue.
And maybe that’s why two of our Scripture readings carry a bit of awe for us when we hear them, that they have an unexpected twist to them. We see it in our Gospel reading, where after the miraculous catch of fish and the risen Lord three times asking Peter if he loves him, and three times tells him to take care of God’s flock–after the betrayal of his teacher and rabbi on that fateful Thursday before the crucifixion, Jesus restores Peter and affirms his role again as one of his disciples, the rock upon which Jesus will build his church.
And even more forcefully, we see the same happening to Saul of Tarsus, who would later be known as the Apostle, St. Paul. Saul, the great persecutor of the Church, is on his way to Damascus to do… more persecuting, and on the way he encounters the glorious Jesus Christ, and is struck blind, beginning a miraculous conversion. The persecutor is on the path to becoming one of the greatest evangelists in the history of Christianity. And God appears to Ananias, who confides with God that he is concerned about going to see Saul of Tarsus and to pray for him to regain his sight because of his great persecutions, God essentially tells Ananias, “It’s OK, because I’m going to use him to bring my name before many, many people–and I will show him how much he is going to suffer… for the sake of my name.”
That last part has always caught my attention, and though it takes me away from the point that I wish to make here today, I can’t help but for it to catch my eye once more–that sometimes suffering is not incidental to one’s commitment to Christ…
But that is for another day. For today, here’s what I wish to convey—that one is never so bad that God can’t reach them.
That is the mystery and power of God, after all, that God’s love and mercy extends to all people, and can reach all and turn every heart.
That is the core of the message of the cross and the resurrection, that all can find hope and healing in the life that Christ has come to bring. All can find redemption and restoration. All can find joy and peace. That no one is ever so bad that God can’t save them and to give them life in our savior.
Peter denied knowing Jesus or being a follower of his at the moment of Jesus’ greatest distress, when facing the Sanhedrin, the Jewish courts, and was surely on the way to being executed. At the moment of Jesus’ greatest anguish, his closest friends abandoned him and denied having any association with him. Even Peter, who had been forewarned of what would happen, did exactly what he was told would happen.
And then, after the resurrection, Jesus asks him, three times, do you love me, and three times Peter responds, Yes Lord, you know I love you. And three times Jesus says “Feed my sheep.” The Prodigal son is welcomed him with open arms!
And again, similarly Saul, who was the greatest persecutor of the church, arresting and executing followers of Jesus, makes a total about-face of his life and makes his whole life about telling others of the grace and mercy of God, because even he, the great persecutor of the Church, could be freed from sin and used by God to spread the message of peace and love everywhere he went.
Many times we can be bogged down in life because of regret or the things we are ashamed of or recognize that we’ve done wrong, like a cancer inside us that we can’t deal with and takes over our lives. I know I can. That has been my cross to bear in this life, but in the cross of Christ, in the grace of God, and in the stories of people like Peter and Saul of Tarsus, I have learned one thing:
Everyone is allowed to have a past.
Everyone is allowed to have things in their lives that they have turned away from, recognizing the wrong and learning from the experience. To have done things that they have renounced and committed to do differently, to do better, and for them to be behind them, and to have changed their ways so that these things are no longer true of who they are today.
It’s the present moment that matters. That Peter, who renounced Jesus, speaks out boldly on that Pentecost morning, telling all who can hear about what God has done in Christ Jesus. And that Saul, who fought to suppress the message of the Gospel has become its mouthpiece throughout the Roman world. And while they never forgot where they came from, they aren’t defined by those things, because in God all are loved just the same, no matter what we may have done.
Everyone is allowed to have a past, thanks be to God.