Contributed by Jay McDivitt, Thiensville, WI


Warm-up Question

Think of a time when you did and a time when you did not apologize for something you did wrong. How does it feel to say you’re sorry? How does it feel not to?

The Power of Not Saying Sorry

shutterstock_10860583editResearchers Tyler Okimoto, Michael Wenzel, and Kyli Hendrick recently reported on a study they did about the effects of apologizing – or not. Their findings were very interesting.  Apologizing often does make someone feel better. However, choosing not to apologize also makes a person feel better – and, often, better than they would have felt had they apologized.

Why? Because: “When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered,” Okimoto said in an interview with NPR. “That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth.”  This research reveals something powerful about human psychology and the power of being in control. It also might help us understand how we might better approach folks who we believe need to apologize. When we force people to apologize (as we often do with children), it makes them feel like they don’t have any power or self-control, that they are not in control of their choices. A forced apology is usually not very heartfelt and, thus, not meaningful.  Love and support, on the other hand, may lead folks to more freely and meaningfully apologize because they can work to heal a relationship without the threatening feelings of being forced.


Discussion Questions

  • What do you think? When have you been forced to apologize? (“Say you’re sorry…or else!”) How does that feel?
  • When you know you’ve done something wrong, what does it take to get you to say you’re sorry?
  • When someone apologizes to you, can you tell whether they mean it or not? What difference does it make?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 14, 2013 (Third Sunday of Easter)

Acts 9:1-20

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-19

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

At the end of this gospel story, Jesus pulls Peter aside for a private conversation. He asks him three times, “Do you love me?” And each time, when Peter replies that he does love Jesus, the risen Christ says (again, three times): “Feed/tend my lambs/sheep.” Then Jesus explains to Peter that if he decides to follow through on this command to tend the flock, life for Peter will be challenging and dangerous. He will not be in control of his own life. He will suffer. He will die before he is ready.

Letting that sink in for a moment, then Jesus invites Peter to “follow me.” What’s going on here?  Remember that not long ago Peter was given the opportunity to show his love for Jesus by publicly claiming to belong to him. Three times, as Jesus was on trial and being prepared for death, Peter was asked if he knew and followed Jesus. Three times, Peter denied it. He let his fear get the better of him.  Jesus died without the solace of knowing that one of his closest friends would be there for him when the road became difficult. Peter felt terrible about what he had done. Terrible times three.

Imagine, then, how Peter was feeling when all of a sudden Jesus shows up by the seaside. Imagine the guilt and shame churning in his stomach when Jesus pulls him aside for a private chat. He expected a reprimand; he deserved harsh judgment. What he got instead was another chance to be in loving relationship with Jesus. Another chance to share in his ministry. Another chance to be a disciple. Another chance to show that Jesus was worthy of love.

Instead of judgment, he received grace and a purpose. Three times.  And so it is with the rest of us. We show up to church with any number of reasons to feel guilty or ashamed. We have much to confess. We deny our love for Jesus as we give our love and allegiance to popularity, prosperity, success, politics… you name it.

What we get from Jesus is not judgment but love. He feeds us – and then calls us into a life of feeding others. He gives us chance after chance after chance to start over and slowly learn how to follow, how to love, how to live and die for something bigger than ourselves or our fears.  And thanks be to God for that. Amen.

Discussion Questions

  • Why didn’t Jesus give Peter a “firm talking to”? Why didn’t he make him apologize? If you were Jesus, what would you want to say to Peter about what happened before, when he denied knowing you and left you alone when you needed him most?
  • What happens next in Peter’s life is really quite remarkable. He lives a life of faithful discipleship, claiming the Name of Jesus, and he is killed for it. What gave him the strength to do that when before he was too weak or fearful to acknowledge even knowing Jesus?
  • When have you deserved to be judged or forced to apologize? When have you been forgiven, whether you apologized or not?

Activity Suggestions

Write a letter to someone you have hurt or wronged. Write another letter to someone who has hurt or wronged you. (These letters can remain private; you don’t have to send them or share them with anyone.) If you could say whatever you wanted to that person, what would it be? Do you want to be forgiven? Do you want to forgive? Do you want to have a relationship with this person, or are you happy to just move on? What would it take to be back into a relationship as friends, family, or whatever?

When your letters are done, talk together as a group about what you wrote. Without sharing names or details, what feelings did you put into it? What actions would be a part of healing this relationship? How much of your letter was judgment, and how much was grace?

(Note: I don’t expect anyone to be totally full of grace and forgiveness and love all the time. That’s Jesus’ job. Thankfully he’s a lot better at it than most of us. The point is simply to explore the power of saying sorry—or not—and  the energy and work it takes to be in relationship with people when getting hurt is always a real possibility.)

Closing Prayer

Risen Christ, you are full of love—for me, for us, and for everyone. How do you do that? It is amazing that you could be so gracious and kind with people who really don’t deserve it. Thank you for loving us, in spite of all our faults, and teach us to slowly begin to learn from you how to love and forgive. Amen.