In a large, bold font today I read these words: “RICE REDEMPTION: TAPPED FOR NSA”. I try not to take my news from one source, be it a more conservative or a more liberal slant, as it tends to skew my own outlook instead of allowing me to make my own decisions. So this headline was the lead story on the more liberal news site “The Huffington Post”
What I am largely unconcerned with here are the political implications involved with Susan Rice’s appointment. What struck me as interesting was the use of a very Christian word, redemption, on a very liberal news outlet, referring to a very volatile issue within the ranks of the more conservative Republican party which is typically associated with the evangelical church.
The question arises, based on this bold declaration, what do we in the church really believe redemption is? Do we see it as a strictly spiritual thing that only applies to the condition of a sinner when they’ve been saved by Christ? Or is there a social dimension to Christianity’s view of redemption? Do we believe that we should be given second chances in life, or are we stalwart in our “you-get-what-you-deserve” stances when it comes to matters of position and leadership?
For my money there is not text in the Bible quite as staggering with regard to social redemption than John 21:15-19. Here, after His resurrection, Jesus takes time to talk with Peter. While talks with Peter were likely quite common throughout His ministry prior to the Cross, this incident seems to the first one-on-One meeting between the two since Peter had denied his allegiance, and even association, with Jesus on the night of the trial. Peter, who was to be integral in the establishment of the church (Matthew 16) had fallen in the hour of greatest need. In fact, the entire set up of John 21 seems to be symbolic. Peter and the boys were done with their “holy mission”. Jesus had died and risen, their new life was coming to a close, so they went fishing. Professional fishermen do not just “go fishing”. They were going back to work, to the life they knew before Jesus had called them three and a half years prior on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. So it is no stretch of the situation here to say that Peter had accepted that his call was done, he’d messed up, and there was little else for him to do for Jesus vocationally.
But the conversation between the faulty Apostle and the Son of God re-calibrates his life, once again, and solidifies his position and responsibility. Jesus confirmed Peter’s vocation as he repeated the phrase, “tend my sheep” three times (Jn 21:15, 16, 17). Three times to fully replace the three denials that night in Jerusalem. Also, as if to call the reader’s mind back to the moment of Peter’s denial, John uses the Greek word anthrakia 1 in reference to the fire that Jesus had made on the shore of the lake that morning (Jn 21:9). This word is used in only one place in the rest of the New Testament, John 18:18, the very fire that Peter was warming his hands on when he denied his Lord to the little girl at the doorway to the courtyard (Jn 18:16-17).
Jesus doesn’t just forgive Peter’s sin, He doesn’t just tell him that He won’t hold the Apostle’s failures against him. No, Jesus reinstates him into the most prestigious position in the entire world, the leader and public face of the church, the bride of Christ. Redemption is not just a spiritual second chance according to the Bible. We do not merely believe that a person’s sins can be forgiven but their lives are forever destroyed. We believe that God’s restorative powers of redemption can, and do, have very social and vocational implications.
So the question for us is not political first. Peter’s second chance was based upon his qualifications, not his failures. This is part of the hope of the kingdom of God that we, as members of that kingdom now, are to exemplify and model. In the certain firestorm of opposition that this political move will create, Christians must search deep and see if they truly believe in real redemption, or redemption with boundaries. While the leader of the NSA is of some importance, I would suggest that how Christians in America deal with the issue of redemption and reconciliation is of infinitely greater importance. Perhaps Susan Rice is not qualified to be in the role she’s been appointed, that is a civil discussion that needs to take place, maybe her overall track record should eliminate her from justifiable eligibility, maybe it doesn’t. To a certain degree that is neither here nor there for the average Christian American. What is critical is the fact that our willingness to allow people to be imperfect will distinguish us from both Republican and Democrat – which is a distinction that cannot take place soon enough for the spiritual sake of our world.