“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!” – John 21:18-19
(a Biblical commentary by Timothy J. Verret)
When I was working up a lesson plan for our Sunday Bible study at the hotel where I work, the above verses Jesus spoke to one of Jesus’ Disciples, Simon Peter, challenged me to no end. I just knew I had to seek to understand what Jesus was saying and I knew it would call me to go deep (big surprise!).
My reflection and research led me to discover the upside-down life of Simon Peter, meaning that the above verses foreshadowed how Simon Peter would die. As told by Origen of Alexandria, Simon Peter was crucified and when they were ready to “stretch out his hands” on the cross, Simon Peter had only one request: “Crucify me upside-down, for I am not worthy to be crucified right side up like the One I BOTH loved AND betrayed, Jesus Christ.” These verses can comfort us, too, as Jesus can foreshadow how we all will die. But will we, in the end, be able to say these exact words of Simon Peter at our end? I know not the answer to that (but Jesus does).
Can we relate to this upside-down life of Simon Peter. I “truly” can! Simon Peter betrayed Jesus 3 times (“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” – Matthew 26:34). I have betrayed Jesus way more than 3 times! Simon Peter was asked by Jesus 3 times, my speculation to line up with Simon Peter’s 3 betrayals of Jesus, “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?” – John 21:15-17). I can’t tell you how many times Jesus put me through this same line of questioning and how many times I either said “no” or just couldn’t answer his same line of questions truthfully. Can we relate to living a right-side-up life, only to have tragedy or trauma throw us upside down? I “truly” can! To BOTH love AND betray the ones we love is to live the upside-down life of Simon Peter. There is no upside-down life quite as horribly “down” as a life spent BOTH loving AND betraying Jesus Christ but “truly,” I’ve been there and sometimes find myself still there.
You might not be living any kind of upside-down life. Everything in your world might be right side up just the way you like, hardly a hiccup or a hurt to speak of. You might have allowed yourself to maintain distance from BOTH feelings AND people. You might be living head-first, heart-last. But I can promise you this: Something (or someone) is going to happen to you in your right-side-up life that WILL throw you upside down. As my favorite film director, Ingmar Bergman, put it in his masterpiece, PERSONA (1966), when Elisabet Vogler went mute to maintain distance from BOTH feelings AND people, “life trickles in from the outside, and you’re forced to react.” Interesting to note is that one day, I, too, went mute to maintain distance like Elisabet for maybe about two weeks or so (Dang! Now you can’t shut me up!). I think Simon Peter wanted a right-side-up life but as he went through BOTH loving AND betraying his Savior, his need to be forgiven “trickled in from the outside” (God), and Simon Peter was forced to react (ask for God to forgive him for what he did to Jesus). I have gone distant many a time and thought I would be okay right side up (though it clearly felt upside down) until “life trickled in from the outside” (trauma) and I was forced to react (“Help me, God?”) and, in doing so, accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I was forced to surrender (God’s Will) and right side up God’s Will to upside down my will (ego). Now, do I do any of this to perfection? BOTH God AND Heaven forbid, NO!!!!
Speaking of a line from a film, there is another film’s lines that seem apropos to this Biblical commentary, and these are lines from the film, AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999). The character of Lester Burnham (actor Kevin Spacey) goes through what can easily be deemed a mid-life crisis, but it can also easily be deemed an upside-down life. When he meets his tragic fate at the end of the film, he delivers these lines to us: “I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will someday.” Yes, something (or someone) will take you to this grateful place like Lester, and I do pray you will keep his words in your heart when this happens. I can’t possibly know how you will die (only Jesus Christ knows that), but I can promise you that just when you think you got this, something (or someone) is gonna throw you from right side up to upside down: “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.”
It is possible, I suppose, that you will not have the upside-down life of Simon Peter in this life (if that’s true, that’s just me being BOTH jealous AND envious). It is also possible, I suppose, that you had the upside-down life of Simon Peter and that it is now right side up with Jesus Christ and won’t ever be upside down again (if that’s true, I suppose that’s also just me being BOTH jealous AND envious). But if I had to speculate regarding BOTH, I would arrive at just ONE: “You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will someday.”
PLEASE NOTE: BOTH comments AND feedback (and even downright objections) are welcome from you regarding this Biblical commentary. I’ll do my very best in my upside-down life to right side up them BOTH AND ALL!