Occasionally people ask me what I do with my time. They seem genuinely interested in the working life of a Parish Priest. The reality of the role is that it is, in all probability, that the life of a parish priest is pretty similar in some ways to other jobs or roles: there are good days, and bad days, highs and lows, things I find interesting and things I find less stimulating. There is a basic structure to my day, and of course prayer is central: my day begins and ends with formal prayer and I try to find time to pray during the day. Routine is an important and stabilising part of the priest's day. Having a rhythm of life is keeps me grounded, centred and focused. I suspect it’s a bit like that for all of us.
Sometimes I get irritated when my preplanned routines are interrupted. Maybe you do also? Interruptions can leave us feeling uncertain, discomforted and unstable. Being interrupted can also, however, lead to a renewed sense of purpose and direction. It’s how we respond to the interruption that matters. Today’s readings are all about interruption. Paul, we are told, was a man on a mission: ‘Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ he ‘went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any, men or women, who belonged to the Way, he might bring them to Jerusalem.’ Presumably these men and women included the apostles, the Mary’s and, of course, Peter. Paul is a man on a mission; a hate filled mission. Meanwhile Peter has gone fishing! He has returned, with his friends, to his old life with its familiar rhythms and routines. Peter is seeking to regain a sense of stability through the tried and tested. ‘When all is uncertain, let’s go fishing.’
Both Peter and Paul are, however, in for a big surprise, for Jesus comes and interrupts their plans, rhythms, and routines, and in doing so questions them and unsettles them. The unsettling, life-changing, question that Jesus asks Paul is, or as he is then known Saul, is ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ The unsettling, life changing, question that Jesus asks Peter, three times, is; ‘Simon - and note how Jesus uses his former name – son of John do you love me?’ I love the way that Jesus doesn’t rush straight to judgement over both Saul (or Paul) and Simon (or Peter), for their acts of hatred and rejection but instead questions them, for it is through the subtle art of questioning that he gets to the very heart of things providing the opportunity for change and redemption.
Paul’s anger and hatred is to be redeemed and transformed by love and into love; Peter’s fear and his rejection of Jesus, his friend, is to be redeemed and transformed by love into love. Peter and Paul, two very different characters, are interrupted by the questioning, loving, redeeming Jesus; the Jesus who makes the improbable possible.
Although Jesus begins his critique of Peter and Paul by asking questions he doesn’t stop there, for to do so would be to leave these two apostles in limbo. After they have answered him, or at least in Paul’s case acknowledged him, he instructs them. He says to Paul: ‘Get up and enter the city and you will be told what to do.’ What Jesus is saying to the temporarily blinded Paul is simply this: ‘you discipleship is going to be entirely contingent on your willingness to trust me.’ Having established that the mightily flawed Peter truly loves him Jesus instructs him to ‘feed my sheep’ and then, crucially, to ‘follow me.’ It is as if Jesus is saying to them, as he does to us, first answer the question, then I will give you the instructions that will allow you to lead lives of real and sustained holiness.
Jesus asks questions of Peter and Paul and then he instructs Peter and Paul. Are you ready and willing be be interrupted, questioned and instructed? Are you ready and willing be be redeemed and transformed. Are you ready and willing to love, feed and serve? These are just some of the questions that today’s readings asks of us. They are the sort of questions that relate directly to one of our three aspirations or three H’s: holiness.
Is it your heart’s desire to allow Jesus to lead you on your life’s journey; interrupting you, questioning you, instructing you so that your pilgrimage is a holy pilgrimage, Amen.