Living in a divided and polarized society, I recently raised this question and shared it with my friends in social media: How do we show love and respect and still uphold the truth and resist evil? Here are my reflections in response to this question, using the story of Jesus and Peter in John 21:1-19.
Active and empathetic listening out of love and compassion that Jesus offered to Simon Peter led to a meaningful and healing conversation that did not distort the truth, gloss over it or ignore it but confronted it with the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation based on an openness to be forgiven and restored by Jesus (cf John 21:1-19).
How to listen and have a transformative conversation is a lifelong lesson that will be learned, tested and applied in the classroom of daily life. For me, to listen (with one’s ears and eyes if reading a post on social media) means being aware of my own biases, flaws and incomplete knowledge and understanding of the situation, with humility and grace. However it doesn’t mean ignoring the truth that I know and information that is already available to all who have the mind to think, discern and decide. It also calls for me to keep doing research, fact check, and use reputable sources. That means not to be lazy to do my own personal work. So, yes, listening with love and the motive to understand and find common ground is hard and exhausting work. But, if we are to follow Jesus’s way, it is important work and worth it.
If I disagree with a person I love, I try hard to listen, not to reply and give a counter argument (immediately 🥰) but to understand. This does not come easy to me (or any human being, I think). I want to win the debate. I want to have the last word. Just ask my husband! BUT… I realize and am learning that to really listen with empathy and love is to rise above my desires and preferences and to “put on the mind of Christ.” (Philippians 2) Not that I give up my own views, but in order to see where the one I am listening to is coming from and to find out what we share in common, to find a halfway point that in our disagreement we can agree to disagree without losing sight of our shared faith and love and together to search the truth “that will set us free” to become Jesus’s witnesses in the world. (A sense of humor is necessary at times. Sarcasm is not so helpful but wit can be winsome when spoken with grace.)
Timing, effort and caring is so important though. Jesus, in John 21:1-19, first helped his disciples to catch fish (did not criticize them for going back to their old life), cooked them breakfast (extended hospitality and provided them food for their body) and then after the meal, took Simon (Peter) aside (possibly in private that John overheard 😊) and engaged him in an intimate, loving conversation. The “kairos” (God-appointed) time takes patience, discernment and preparation. So it’s important not to rush into it. Doing our own personal interior work and sensitivity towards those we want to listen to with love and respect begins in solitude and prayer and listening to Jesus.
For Peter, it was painful to listen to Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these?” Bible scholars explain that Jesus’s question asked three times corresponded with Peter’s denial of Jesus three times. This was Jesus not forgetting recent history of betrayal, but the way he guided Peter to move on was by asking and listening in order for Peter to remember the wrong he had done against Jesus, renew his love for Jesus, and then to be forgiven and restored in a loving relationship with his beloved Lord, Jesus.
How this kind of listening is applied and practiced is a lifelong learning adventure that calls for prayerful humility and receptivity to the Holy Spirit’s work in us. For Peter and the rest of the disciples it also meant going back to fishing for people and doing God’s mission of making disciples as Jesus taught and showed them to do.
Jesus last words to Peter and the disciples in John’s story was, “Follow me.” (John 21:19). Follow Jesus. Not Herod, the Pharisees, Pilate or Caesar.
I pause my keys for now.
Till next time, shalom and may the God who listens to us and hears our cries as well as our laughter, bind us in love and send us forth in peace. Amen.