Having asked what we as a church can do for the community, a local high school principal replied, “Be a watchman to the community.” She explained that the church was needed to help with acceptance of diversity in our neighbourhood and educate against prejudice as this region has faced changing demographics from immigration.
I ran across the word watchman recently in Ezekiel. God says to Ezekiel, “I have appointed you a watchman to my people.” The radical nature of Ezekiel’s commission means that God makes his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth until He gives him a message, at which time it is loosed!
OT prophets, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, shared in a commission that was in fact intercession. OT scholar, Donald Leggett tells us that “a prophet is one who speaks from God to people and to God concerning people.” The prophet is “intoxicated with God” and lives deeply that connection. When people insist on living in defilement, whether it be prejudice or lack of appreciation for God’s gift of diversity, or any sin that dishonours God`s creation, God reluctantly gives us over to those desires. The prophet lives God’s pain through tears and pleas for God’s people and to God’s people.
The prophet’s connection with God is deep but so is the tension. Jeremiah speaks about that tension in chapter 20:9, “But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” The prophet’s driving passion is deeply imbedded to motivate to action. That`s also what happens with Peter (John 21). But before Peter can be commissioned to action, Jesus leads him to his driving passion by first bringing him to a place he doesn`t want to go.
N.T. Wright helps us picture this moment between Jesus and Peter. The disciples are shivering, tired and hungry from fishing all night. As they approach the shore, they breathe in the welcoming smell of bread and fish already simmering on the hot coals. There was Jesus, smiling with an open invitation to join Him for breakfast. This is the third time Jesus appears following His death and resurrection. It’s an intimate gathering with friends.
You can imagine how Peter must be feeling. He hasn’t been alone with Jesus since before His death. Peter is probably reflecting on his determined and emphatic promise to follow Jesus to death in chapter 13… and then his terrible attempt when given the opportunity in chapter 18 – when Jesus is being tried and intended for the crucifixion and Peter denies him three times. Peter is fully aware that Jesus knows what happened – that Jesus is aware of how he messed up. Now, Peter is alone facing Jesus.
And Jesus in His wonderful way, crafts the moment for the deep healing of memories and extension of forgiveness. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him and probably not coincidently, three times Peter confesses that he does. Commentators discuss how Peter’s three denials in chapter 18 match Jesus asking three times whether he loves Him as a sign of completion. Probably the most profound part of this exchange is that Jesus goes to where the pain is. It’s that place that we instinctively want to resist but without going there we can’t move on and be commissioned. It’s like people who resist going to the dentist even though they can’t bear the toothache anymore; like the virus-ridden software on a hard disk that needs to be removed for it to run at maximum efficiency.
Jesus helped Peter find love through hurt and past failures and gave him a chance to express that love. That’s what He does for all of us when we let Him. Our connection with God is our response of love by going to those places of resistances and, just like the prophets, becoming “intoxicated with God.”
That`s how we become watchmen and women.
Henri Nouwen describes it as “responding to personal struggles, family conflicts, national calamities and international tensions with an articulate faith in God’s real presence. It’s about us saying no to every form of fatalism, defeatism, accidentalism and incidentalism.” Our task is to discern, to discover and then to announce to the world how God is working through our church, our community, our world.
Once Peter lets Jesus lead him to those places of resistance, Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to share in the same commission that was given to Him. “As the father sent me, I am sending you.” Sending us. That’s the commission Jesus gives.
Here’s the thing. Peter is already a follower of Jesus before this encounter in John 21. He has already been invited to follow and even been referred to as the rock on which Jesus will build His church. This encounter brings a fresh commission.
Being a watchman or woman is established and rooted in a foundational love for Jesus and then being privileged for commission.