"Peter went out and wept bitterly"
One of the things that I love most about the Bible is that even the passages I know very well, I never really know. I mean, I know them, but there is still something to learn. Joshua and the battle of Jericho, the Prodigal Son, the birth of Jesus, David and Goliath.... all are stories I've been hearing since my childhood, but still today, when I read the accounts in the Bible, or hear them in church, or study them in Bible study, there is something new for me to learn. Maybe a new detail I've never noticed before; maybe a new application for my life; maybe a deeper understanding than I had before.
One of those passages that keeps opening up for me is in John 21. It's the conversation Peter has with Jesus, after Jesus' resurrection. It is, of course, also after Peter's denial of his knowledge of Jesus, in John 18.
If I were Peter, I think this would be the episode in my life that was I least eager to have the world know about. But maybe Peter is more mature than I am, or maybe he just knew there were even worse things in his history, so he was okay with this one.
The conversation consisted of Jesus asking Peter, "Do you love Me?" three separate times. Each time, Peter responded, "Lord, you know that I love you," but verse 17 tells us that Peter was saddened that Jesus repeated the question.
We don't really know what Peter was thinking there. Did he just feel misunderstood because Jesus kept asking him the same question, like Jesus didn't believe him? Or was it the language Jesus was using? If you look at the original language, where our Bibles use the word "love", you'll see a difference. Jesus was asking Peter if he was wholly devoted to Him. But Peter was responding with a less fervent form of the word love.
I've heard it said that Jesus asked the question three times, because Peter had denied Him three times, but I'm not really convinced of that. Sometimes things just happen in threes. I'm not sure Jesus would have felt the need to remind Peter of his failure; He knew already how disappointed Peter was in himself.
No, I think Peter was beating himself up, as we all sometimes do. He loved his Lord so much, but he had failed to stand strong when he got scared. I think he was choosing a lesser form of the word love because he simply wasn't sure he could make the promise of wholly and completely loving Jesus. There's a song we sing at church sometimes that has the line, "in all I do, I honor You". It's a beautiful song, but I have trouble singing that line, because I know it's not true. I don't honor Him in everything I do, and it feels like a lie. And every time I hear that line, I have to acknowledge, in my own heart, that I have failed Him.
Jesus is okay with sincere failure. I think God treasures effort more than achievement. And though Jesus was using a more committed form of the word "love" the first two times, the third time He asked the question, He met Peter where he was by using the form of the word that Peter had been using in his responses.
I don't know about you, but the more I fail at something, the more I beat myself up over my failures. But I don't think it's supposed to be that way. God forgives us for our mistakes, but He expects us to try to do better the next time. And the time after that. It's gentle pushing, really. And I think that's so much better than if He were to say, "nice try, but I guess you can't handle that. Never mind," and move on to someone else.
Peter had failed at loving Jesus, but it didn't mean he didn't love Him. I can't honestly say that in all I do, I honor Him, but it doesn't change my desire to please Him. And I'm glad He knows that.
~ "And when He had spoken this,
He said to Peter, 'Follow Me.' " ~