Bernie Madoff. There, that name oughta get your blood boiling! Madoff was the perpetrator of one of the largest Ponzi schemes in US history, bilking investors, many of them well known, out of billions of dollars. People’s whole lives depended on these investments, and many were left penniless. The government recovered a lot of the money when they arrested Madoff in 2008. That money was put into a fund and a company was hired to distribute it to victims. Delays caused by verifying claims of amounts invested and who invested meant that as of May 2017, none of the claims had been paid. But they were working on it. For those swindled, knowing those funds are there, and they can’t get any of their money back must be like hungry kids looking in a restaurant window, imagining what that food would taste like.
We continue to learn the importance of restitution not only to the victims, but also to the criminals. There’s something about restoring what was lost and starting over from the beginning that helps those who have wronged others to begin the process of understanding the pain they caused others. If the victim and the criminal have to be around each other, life gets awkward until restitution happens. I’m sure that Peter felt that way when he saw the resurrected Jesus – the one he had denied knowing three times. Jesus gently led him in the path of restoration. “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17)
Peter ran from the boat to see Jesus when he realized who it was on the shore. Still, there must have been some tension as Peter thought about denying Jesus when the chips were down. I think Jesus, who had already forgiven him, caught Peter’s tension and pulled him aside. Three times He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” I don’t know when Peter caught on to what Jesus was doing. I think it was that third time Jesus asked him. I’m sure, in the back of his mind, Peter was wondering why Jesus was asking him the same question. Perhaps he was wondering if Jesus was even listening for his answer, because Jesus asked again, and then again, if he loved Jesus. Then, that third time, something clicked. While I’m speculating here, I think Peter must have thought something like, “That’s the third time, He’s asked me that question! Why would He ask me three times if….Oh.” Jesus wasn’t asking to condemn Peter. Jesus wasn’t asking to make Peter feel bad. He was seeking to restore the relationship that they had.
Steps 8 and 9 of the AS 12 step program deal with making wrongs right, of seeking ways to make restitution to people we have harmed in the past. It’s a reminder that just as forgiveness is life changing for the one who is forgiving another, making restitution is a powerful step for the one who has wronged others. When we make restitution, we are not only admitting our errors, and our sins, we are saying that insofar as it depends on us, we want to restore the relationship. Someone we have wronged in the past may not ever trust us again, and that’s ok. We should still seek to restore that relationship. In our relationship with God, we can never make restitution for our sins, which is why Jesus died on the cross for us, but we can seek Him daily and allow Him to restore our relationship. Sometimes, though, God reminds us of our sins so that we can remember how great His grace is. Like Peter, we may not always understand the process in the beginning; the process may be difficult, but God has a purpose in reminding us of our past. Sometimes it’s only when we realize how great our sin was, that we understand how great His grace is.
Oh Lord, how great is my sin. How much greater is Your grace as You forgive me.