Yesterday’s commment about Paul and possible suffering he might have experienced from intrusive memories of past murderous actions got some fun dialogue going here and on Fb. So, in light of the summer doldrums, let’s try another provocative thought. While neither this one nor the yesterday’s musing is based on the actual text (rather they are musings about the personal experience of two apostles), I think they are still fun to consider.
*in chapter 18 of John, the story of Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus is told to us. We are told he is warming himself around a communal fire during this episode. Fast forward to chapter 21. Jesus is now resurrected, has met with the disciples in Jerusalem and now meets the disciples in Galilee after a night of fishing on the Lake. Verse 9 tells us that when the disciples landed and saw Jesus, he was standing beside a charcoal fire cooking fish. What transpires next is Jesus thrice asking Peter if he loved him followed by the command to feed and care for “my sheep.”
Is it purposeful that the only two times in the book of John that charcoal fires are mentioned are these two? What memories does it evoke in Peter as he sees Jesus by it and smells the fire. Does it trigger a way of shame? Had they yet to talk about his denials? Was Peter hanging back? Was Jesus three questions intended to undo the damage done by Peter’s 3 denials?
Clearly, we can say that Jesus’ questions hurt Peter (the text tells us this) but we don’t know the nature of that hurt. What we do know is that humans often carry with them visceral reactions to triggers that bring them back to shameful past events. We don’t know that is what happened to Peter but it might well have.
We can also say that sometimes it is appropriate to have symbolic healing experiences that help commemorate and change our experience of something. I would caution those too enthused with ushering in healing with half-baked re-experiencing moments. And yet, I suspect we all have had some postive, even painful experience that resolved a negative experience from the past.
*This idea did not originate from me. I heard a pastor begin a sermon on this passage by remembering his own traumatic experience (bike accident) and how he physically remembered that accident when his young children were biking. He then mused about Peter’s reactions with Jesus in this passage. He did not suggest the text tells us much here but it was worthwhile considering how we respond when facing memories of past negative and shameful events.