John 21: 15-19
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that 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 the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
In the movie 3 Idiots, we come across a character whose name is Joy Lobo. Joy who is pursuing engineering has a passion for machines. In the final year he attempts to make a project out of a helicopter with wireless camera for his Engineering project. The principal Viru Sahastrabudhe mocks his idea and does not give him another chance or extension and also tells him that he won’t graduate that year. He pleads to no avail. Having hit the rock bottom he sings the melancholic song.
Give me some sunshine
Give me some rain
Give me another chance
I wanna grow up once again
We wish it had a better ending but the guy writes “I quit” and commits suicide. The feeling of being a failure is a huge burden to live by. The feeling of inadequacy and not being good enough is a constant battle that we struggle with.
Now when we read about Peter, we understand he too lived with the burden of being a failure. Failure of living up to his own expectations. I believe that when Peter said in Matthew 26:33″Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”, he truly believed that he will always stand by Jesus. But life keeps showing us that we just do not know ourselves enough. When Jesus said that Peter would deny Jesus, he was not predicting something unlikely. The point is, Jesus knew Peter more than Peter knew himself. That my friend is quite scary. Peter always portrayed himself way better than he actually was. This trait we share with him. If we look at our Facebook accounts and Instagram, we are out to portray the best version of ourselves. With funny posts, filtered photos and selfies, we too like Peter are trying to make ourselves believe in a version of ourselves that is too perfect. But the trouble is, we are not. We crack up and fail. Peter failed not once, not twice but thrice. Jesus knew this would happen. Peter more than denying Jesus, denied his own self-belief and confidence. Now before you walk with me to this passage, remember, this story is not just about Peter. There is a trace of us in the story of Peter. Let us identify ourselves with the rockstar disciple, Peter. Peter is swimming in his failure. And Jesus seeks him out. Now before anything let us ask, why did Peter deny Jesus? Is it that he did not love Jesus? He surely loved Jesus. But there was someone he loved more. It was himself. Peter denied Jesus out of fear of losing his life. It is love for self-preservation and the tendency of playing it safe that led Peter to deny Jesus. So here Jesus seeks our Peter. In the Middle Eastern culture and ethos, a thing you say three times you affirm it. Like in Islam, you say “Kabool hai” at wedding ceremony for 3 times and you have given your consent for marriage. In the Isaianic Vision, Angels say “Holy, Holy, Holy” affirming the holiness of God beyond doubt. The same logic applies when we affirm the Kauma “Daivame Nee Parishudhana Aagunnu”(Holy Art Thou O God) 3 times. It is an act of affirmation. By asking Peter “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus is giving Peter an opportunity to unbind himself from the 3 public denials. After every question he commanded to “Feed my lambs.” Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” After every affirmation of Peter’s love, Jesus was commissioning him to look beyond himself. Love is shown not just in words, but in action. Get over your selfishness and live for others. Serve others. Take care of my sheep. It was a huge commissioning.
Now verse 18, 19 is an anticlimax to the story thus far. We like happy ending. And Jesus promised Peter a wonderful and prosperous life. But wait, Jesus gives a truly bad prediction. He is talking about Peter’s death. Thanks Jesus, you finally took your revenge, didn’t you? What exactly is he doing here? Now when Peter was just caught up with himself, being a master of his destiny, he set the agenda. He dressed and went wherever he wanted. Whenever Jesus tried to tell about his inevitable suffering and death, Peter tried to stop Jesus. It was not how he planned. Like Peter we wish to take Jesus where we want to go. And when Jesus refused to comply and was adamant to suffer and die, He denied Him. He did not want to lose control. You can continue to live like that and know what a miserable life that is. Jesus now in short says “Peter, you tried to save your life fearing death. But was that life worth living? Now let me tell you, you are going to die. Since that is sure, remember, I have conquered death through resurrection. So now live. You are not in control. I will take you to places you do not wish to go. You will dine with people you do not wish to dine with. You will do works that you would rather never do. You will offend people who you wish to please. “Follow me”. You will be like a candle that will give light, but in the process will die out by melting away.
The underlying story of Peter is, you cannot live saving your skin. That is not living. Living is to think beyond ourselves and leading a meaningful life. I recently attended a Conference of National Council of Churches of India (NCCI) at Jabalpur. There I was really bored with the sessions as it was afternoon. And then the voice over the microphone said these words “Life of disability is one of tremendous possibilities.” Within a jiffy my sleep vanished and I looked up. What? Come again? Let me introduce you Mr George Abraham. Read on and I am sure you will jump out of your seats at the end of it all.
George Abraham was born on 31st October 1958 to his parents Mr. M.G. Abraham and Mrs Susheela Abraham. George at the age of 10 months had meningitis which caused permanent damage to his optic nerve making him visually impaired. But his parents took a very bold decision regarding his schooling. They sent him to mainstream school. This had its share of challenges, but his parents read out text book to him and equipped him for the same. George says “My mother is a very prayerful person and her faith always helped me to overcome the many challenges and loneliness I felt in the growing stage. Her faith that God will equip my child against all odds gave me confidence. It is from my father that I inherited the love for Maths.” In 1972, when he wanted to do Maths, the combination of physics and chemistry with his visual impairment was a problem. But he persisted and graduated with Maths from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. He did his Masters in Operation Research and entered into the field of Advertisement. His academic pursuits along with his career in advertising was enough to make his story an extraordinary one.
In 1989, he along with his wife Rupa visited a School for the blind in New Delhi. He was deeply saddened by the condition of the life of the visually impaired children. Inferiority complex , poor body language and low ambitions is what he saw in these children. This was a turning point in his life. That is the time he realized the impact of the revolutionary decision taken by his parents to send him to mainstream school. Now he had an option to feel lucky and move on in life. George says “I felt the encounter of God to use resources for the visually impaired children. It became a passion and mission. Every Blind and Visually impaired person has a right to live a fulfilling life. I took a tough decision to quit my job and dedicated myself to improve the quality of living of people with blindness and low eye sight.
Sports is an integral part of a human being and people with disability are always kept away from it. George being a cricket enthusiast always wished even visually impaired could play cricket. Therefore in 1992, he organized the first National Cricket Tournament for the Blind where he wrote to 200 schools to participate and 20 responded with participation. George roped in Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev for the tournament to give visisbility and also called the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to give away prizes. A dream was shaping beautifully. In 1996 to give momentum to Cricket for the blind he founded the Association for Cricket for the Blind in India (ACBI). That very year he initiated the setting up the World Blind Cricket Council (WBCC). This led to the first World Cup for the Blind in New Delhi in 1998 where George played a stellar role in organizing and co-ordinating 7 countries that participated. This was a huge achievement which was unthinkable and now the World Cup is part of the Cricketing calendar.
The question still remained how to impact ordinary people who are visually impaired? It was during the run up to the cup, that George says he discovered that the “real problem was not the blindness but the mindset of the other people and the blind people themselves, to the disability. Everyone, including the blind, believed they just couldn’t lead normal lives. I wanted to change that,”. In 2002, George established the SCORE Foundation, a non-profit organization. The focus of SCORE was to be the information and mentoring centre for the visually impaired. Lack of information and good guidance is what makes blind people settle for mediocre lives believes George. Score launched Project Eyeway as a single- stop knowledge resource for people living with blindness and low vision. Today Eyeway comprises the website http://www.eyeway.org, a weekly radio programme ‘Yea Hai Roshni Ka Karwan’ which is broadcast from 30 cities in India, the Eyeway helpdesk, the Eyeway news SMS service, the Eyeway Talking Book service and the Eyeway training service programme. The impact of his endeavor can be gauged by just one case.
A few years ago, George received a call from a man who lived in Bhopal. He was in his late 20s and was losing his vision at an alarming speed. He had quit his job and returned to his parents, resigned to a life of darkness. “He had heard our radio show and wanted to know what he could do. We convinced him that he could take on home-based assignments to begin with, so that he felt useful. But after a few months, he called back to say while he was earning money, his social life was in doldrums. While his friends went out and partied, he sat at home. His parents refused to let him out alone, lest a car run him over. We spoke to them but they refused, saying they didn’t want to lose their son to a pothole, a ditch or a rash driver. Luckily a few weeks later, we did a radio show with a blind man who had overcome similar odds and was now working in a senior position in a bank. The young man was excited. He wanted us to talk to his parents again. This time, they agreed to let him venture out close by, with a cane in hand, provided they followed him at a distance. This continued for a while. When both the young man and his parents had gained enough confidence, we convinced him to apply for a job. He landed a really cool job at TCS and first moved to Kolkata and is now based in Bangalore. Recently we spoke again and he said now he hopes to fall in love soon and get married! It is stories like these that I live for,” says Abraham.
When George ended the conversation, he said “My faith in the Living God instilled by my parents has kept me strong. Support of my wife has been integral in all the aspects of my life. I believe that we are blessed and are called to be a blessing. That is biblical faith to me, where fear of the unknown is conquered by faith. Do pray that we can reach more and more people who yearn to be independent and want to live a fulfilling life.”
P.S. George is married to his wife Rupa and is blessed with two daughters, Neha and Tara. He is a fabulous orator and a motivational speaker. Please visit a module by SCORE where George wishes to equip blind children to have a winner attitude from young age. Check this out and support it. https://www.ketto.org/scorefoundation
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal