Most of us know the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus on the night before the crucifixion.
Poor Peter! The person we often find hardest to forgive is ourselves. It’s difficult to imagine the depth of the shame, the embarrassment, the frightfulness of what he had done. For years I remember struggling with something I had said to someone, in a moment, which still made my tummy churn and made me feel overwhelmed with shame years later. It was so hard to forget. I couldn’t forget it. I didn’t know how to make it go away. And Peter, who was so much the leader of the disciples, so bold, this Peter, in public, had denied that he ever knew Jesus. And Jesus had seen and heard it all.
John 21 tells how Jesus meets His disciples after his resurrection. He cooks breakfast for them on the beach when they had been out, all night, fishing and had caught nothing. At His command they haul up a miracle catch, and they know that this is the risen Jesus!
Peter knows that Jesus has forgiven him. He is still included among the disciples. But I wonder how awkward he is feeling being with Jesus. Forgiveness is one thing – but dealing with the shame of what you have done, and the fear of failing again are two other big issues. Jesus can deal with both of these.
As Jesus walks along the beach with Peter that morning, He gently exposes the fallibility of Peter’s love with those questions: “Do you love me?” Jesus knows Peter’s failure and weakness – and then He gives him a personal commission in his Church! He lifts off Peter’s shame. He believes in Peter.
Something puzzling comes next: Jesus tells Peter that when he is old, he will be dressed by someone else and, unable to see, and he will be taken somewhere he won’t want to go. (John 21:18-19). We are told that Jesus is understood to be talking about Peter’s death.
I wonder why Jesus says this. Somewhere deep inside me, I feel Jesus is lifting off Peter that fear of failure that has overwhelmed him ever since his terrible betrayal. After we have failed once, a fear of failure can cripple us and paralyse us for the future. And Jesus can remove it!
Jesus is saying something like: “At the very end, a hard test is coming for you, Peter. You won’t fail. I know about it. I’ll be there.’ Peter knows what failure is now. But this is restitution.
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