Jesus Can Use Us Just as We Are.
Thursday, November 1st was All Saints Day on the liturgical calendar. When many of us think of saints, we think of pictures or statues of people who are wearing a hallo. Often, we think of saints as persons who have been perfect in all their ways. Some believe that in order to be labeled a saint; you have to die and go through a long ecclesiastical rigmarole before you can be given the title of saint. This is different than the Protestant view which holds that if you truly believe that Jesus is God and you accept him as your Lord and Savior, you are automatically a saint.
Are saints perfect in every way? Consider Mother Teresa, who many believe is a contemporary saint (the Catholic Church is in the process of officially proclaiming her a saint). This godly, unselfish woman certainly lived up to the ideal of being nearly perfect. However, even she expressed doubts about her faith and the existence of God. Her letters testify that she suffered through many “dark nights of the soul.”
Perhaps a way of testing these thoughts about godly perfection might be to look at Peter the Apostle, as he is written about in the last chapter (Chap.21) of the Gospel of John. Certainly, all Christian denominations accept Peter as a saint. You may recall the gospel scene: the resurrected Jesus has appeared to some of His followers three times so far, but the disciples are still confused about what all this means. Shortly after having encountered the risen Lord, Peter decides to go fishing and six other disciples join him. This seems to be a rather odd response to godly encounters! Maybe this is a “guy thing” kind of reaction to cosmic events that Peter and his friends don’t yet comprehend.
Anyway, they unsuccessfully fish all night on the lake. Morning comes and they are tired and hungry and are approaching the shore, when a fellow on the beach calls out to them asking if they caught anything. They say no, and he tells them to throw their net over the other side of the boat and they will have fish. They do and they catch so many fish that the net is almost to the point of breaking.
At this point Simon Peter recognizes the person on the shore as Jesus. He jumps into the chest deep water and runs to Jesus. The others follow, pulling in the boat and the full fishing net. As they come ashore, they find the risen Christ standing beside a charcoal fire on which fish and bread are cooking. He then invites his friends to have breakfast. Did you catch that? What an extraordinary display of Godly banality! Jesus Christ, having just conquered death and hell, cooks breakfast for His disciples! Obviously, here is a lesson about God’s very tangible love and concern for us.
After breakfast, Jesus engages Peter in an intriguing dialogue. Remember, that this is the same Simon Peter who, about a week earlier, just after the arrest of the Lord, denied Jesus three times.
In the NIV Bible+ the dialogue goes as follows (John. 21:15-18):
Simon Peter … do you truly love me more than these?
Yes Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus said, Feed my lambs.
Again Jesus said, Simon, son of John, Do you love me?
He answered, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Jesus said, Take care of my sheep.
The third time, He said to him, Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Peter was hurt, because Jesus asked him a third time, do you love me?
He said, Lord you know all things, you know I love you.
Jesus said, Feed my sheep.
Unfortunately, some of the meaning of this is lost in translation. The several Greek words for love are much more nuanced then the single English word for love. The first two times that Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, He says do you agapao [agape] me? Do you have unconditional, self-sacrificing love for me? Three times, Peter replies, “Lord, you know I phileo you; you know I love you like a brother and have an emotional fondness for you.
The third time when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he says to Peter, do you phileo me? Isn’t that interesting? Jesus has gone from agape to phileo with Peter. I think Jesus realizes that – at this time - this is as far as Peter can go in his love relationship with Jesus. Could it be that Jesus is willing to take us where we are and use us even if we don’t express the love and faith that we should. Yes, Jesus does indeed take us where we are and by the work of His Spirit, if we are willing, grows us into sanctification and Christian maturity. This is what being a saint is all about – participating in God’s process within us.
The third stanza of Charlotte Elliot’s wonderful old hymn, Just as I Am, expresses the feelings of many of us who are neophyte saints:
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fighting’s and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Thank you Jesus for taking us as we are! May we be among your saints on the day that “The books will be opened” (Rev.20:12). Meanwhile, let’s get on with the task of being God’s hands and feet as we minister to the others around us.