June 26, 2020

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

The great gift of a second chance

John ShaughnessyIt may be the best story ever of the difference that giving someone a second chance makes.

It’s also the story of the great blessing of having someone in your life who gives you that opportunity.

To get the full impact of that real-life story, imagine yourself at the center of it.

You have a friend who has always wanted the best for you, a friend who has always given you the best of himself. Yet in the toughest moment of his life, a moment when he desperately needs you—if only to know you are there for him—you deny you even know him, letting him fend for himself against people who want to destroy him. And he knows you have done this, and it strikes him to the heart even more than the words and the actions of his enemies ever could.

In that moment, you are ashamed of how you have let down and betrayed someone who had so much faith in you, so much love for you. In that moment, you desperately wish you had an opportunity to redeem yourself, even while you are convinced it can never happen. Then something extraordinary does happen.

Your friend comes to you unexpectedly. Even more stunning, he never mentions your fear or your betrayal. He shows no anger toward you. Instead, he has already forgiven you in his heart. And he expresses his love for you and his faith in you by asking you to do something special for him. Humbled and revived, you embrace that second chance with all your heart and soul.

That’s the essence of the friendship between Jesus and St. Peter, the only two people in the history of the world who are known to walk on water—even if it was for the briefest of moments in Peter’s case. Yet that unique connection isn’t what makes their friendship so amazing—or so important for our own lives.

At different points in their relationship, Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” chastises him for his pride, and publicly declares that Peter will betray him three times in one night. And Peter doubts Jesus even as Jesus stands before him, and he betrays Jesus just as Jesus said he would.

Many of us on either side of that kind of friendship would have cut the bond at some point. Yet Jesus keeps seeing the value and the promise of Peter’s life, and Peter keeps trying to live up to the potential and the promise that Jesus sees in him. All those second chances from Jesus eventually transform Peter. The doubts and the fears he had give way to a resolve and a courage to fearlessly share the message of Jesus, including the teaching to forgive “70 times 7.”

In their actions, we see more than the essence of the friendship between Jesus and Peter. We see the essence of friendship itself—of any relationship—starting with a desire to keep moving closer and a continuing willingness to forgive. We are also offered a view of the friendship that Jesus extends to all of us, a friendship in which we will be given numerous second chances.

It’s there for anyone who’s ever felt lowly and despised, in the same way that Christ befriended tax collectors, prostitutes and people who were physically lame. It’s also there for anyone who has ever worried that it’s too late to turn to God, as Christ offered that opportunity to the good thief dying next to him on the cross.

It’s there for all of us.

At some point, we will be called to follow Christ’s example—to give a second chance to someone in our lives, to help them live up to the potential and the promise that God sees in them.

And there’s no doubt that we will need a second chance—multiple second chances—to become the people God calls us to be. God will continue to give us those opportunities for redemption.

When those times come, offer someone a second chance. Make the most of a second chance.

(John Shaughnessy is the assistant editor of The Criterion. This reflection has been adapted from his book, Then Something Wondrous Happened: Unlikely encounters and unexpected graces in search of a friendship with God.)

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