Kintsugi, or Kintsukori, is a 15th century Japanese art of repairing broken pottery and transforming it into a new work of art with gold. The name is derived from the words “Kin” meaning golden and “tsugi” meaning repair. When translated it means, ‘golden repair’. This traditional art uses liquid gold, or lacquer dusted with powdered gold – to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item and at the same time enhance the breaks. The scars and cracks of the broken ceramic becomes the focus and thus turn the object into something unique and exquisite.
Kintsugi pottery is heavily influenced by the Zen principle of Wabi sabi which is the concept of embracing imperfection. It means finding pleasure in aged and worn objects, thereby, valuing their brokenness and blemishes as beautiful. The Japanese art of kintsugi teaches that broken objects are not something to hide but to display with pride. Similarly, in the readings of the day God embraces the imperfection, sinfulness, brokenness, and blemishes of the Apostles, especially Peter.
Peter was the most privileged of all. Jesus took him on the mountain to witness the transfiguration. He was there when Jesus brought the little girl to life. He was very much present when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. Then how did Peter become such a big bundle of failures, weaknesses, brokenness, and imperfection? Such a calamity!
Peter did not understand parables. He misinterpreted the words of Jesus. He tried to keep children away from Jesus. He argued with others about who was the greatest. He would declare his profession of faith and immediately try to prevent Jesus from fulfilling the will of the Father (Mt 16:18-23).
The climax of all his failures and brokenness culminates in the denial of Jesus three times on His way to Calvary. He asserted, “I don’t know this man. I don’t know who you are talking about.” One would think, Peter must have been conscious of the fact that he had forfeited all rights to be viewed as a disciple of Jesus, let alone a close associate of His ministry through his repeated denial of Jesus. Peter must have thought of himself as unfixable, unlovable, and totally wrong. This was a profound failure which calls for a process of re-establishment commensurable with the seriousness of the defection. Even in today’s gospel Peter failed. He led others for fishing and yet they all came back with nothing. This was embarrassing.
Peter was half-naked on the boat, when the ‘Beloved’ disciple tells Peter, ‘It is the Lord”. Peter’s nakedness symbolizes his spiritual state after his denial of Jesus just like Adam in the Garden of Eden. When Peter reached the shore, Jesus did not pretend that Peter’s denials didn’t happen and didn’t wound Jesus. But neither does Jesus preach, condemn, accuse, or retaliate. He simply feeds, “come, have breakfast.”
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Asking three times and answering three times affirmatively is a near-eastern custom of making a declaration of loyalty before witnesses. Something to note is that even now Jesus did not use the name ‘Peter’ which He Himself had given him, instead Jesus called his unredeemed name, Simon. Jesus still gave him the freedom to go back to his past life.
By this time, all the old self-confidence and assertiveness manifested in Peter before the crucifixion of Jesus had drained. He could only appeal to the Lord’s totality of knowledge. He had no other witness except Jesus. Only Jesus could tell that Peter was speaking the truth. Peter really did love Him, and that is all he could say. Nothing more was required to be spoken and that was enough for Jesus.
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep, Feed my lambs.’ In the ancient Catholic exegesis, Jesus is choosing Peter as the sole foundation of pastoral authority in His Church. The One Holy Church is to be governed by one Pastor, Peter. He placed His utmost trust in the broken man, Peter, to take care of His people and to lead the post-Resurrection Church.
When Jesus became the sanctuary of the brokenness, sinfulness, weakness and imperfection of the lead apostle, Peter would tell the authorities, “We must obey god rather than men.” It is the weak Peter who would tell the authorities, ‘We are witnesses to these things.” The man who said, ‘I have never seen this man,” will happily go on to take the lashes from the temple authorities and eventually die on the cross, hung upside down.
The God we worship today is the Risen Jesus who knows that we are more than our worst failures and betrayals. He knows that we are prone to shame and self-hatred. He knows the deep places we flee to when we fail. All at the same time, he knows how to build the fire and prepare the meal that will invite us back to the shore. It is we, humans, who have such voyeuristic obsession with other people’s failures. We have such a strong need to rebuke, and shame broken, weak, sinful and imperfect people in order to make ourselves seem pure.
The Risen God, you and I worship, mends us with gold so that each of us may become something unique and exquisite. He embraces our imperfection, He finds pleasure in accepting our weaknesses, betrayals, and denials. He is a God who values our blemishes, to turn it into something beautiful.
Image: Adobe Stock. A handmade pot made that was broken and I repaired with the Japanese art form of kintsugi. By photoBeard.
Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.