It’s so easy to give up. We fail. We get hurt. We sin. We go into hiding. Maybe not outwardly but inwardly we retreat to a place we think is safe, where our disappointments cannot follow. It’s a lie, of course, but since the Garden, we’ve become practiced in this survival tactic. I believe this is where we find Peter in today’s passage.
Peter had made the horrific yet healing discovery that he was not who he thought he was. He was not the fearless disciple who would die with Jesus if it came down to it. He was not the friend he perceived himself to be. He was not the insider who understood how things were going to play out. He was not brave, loyal, or bright. Peter was reeling inwardly without the moorings of his old false self. Yet Peter was about to be rescued, once again, by Jesus, whose courage, friendship and wisdom cannot fail.
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. (15-17)
As was Jesus’ practice, He did not condemn failure. He simply drilled down into that place where Peter had retreated and threw him the lifeline. While Peter flailed about, drowning in self-pity and self-condemnation, Jesus drew his attention away from those red herrings to the thing that would allow Peter to regain his buoyancy—the love established between Jesus and himself – the love that was never in the least disturbed by Peter’s miserable performance.
It was as if Jesus just fast-forwarded past every awful thing Peter had been rehearsing to himself. Jesus just kept casting the lifeline until Peter finally abandoned his flailing attempts to tread water. Jesus had to disturb Peter. He had to grieve him to rescue him. Jesus had to descend into Peter’s personal hell to save him once again.
Never did Peter’s cowardice and abandonment of Jesus come up. The remedy was not penance; it was simply obedience to the great commandment: go love others as I have loved you. There was no benefit for Peter to continue in his dark introspection. He simply needed to recognize that being loved by Jesus was sufficient and that his life would be found by giving it away as Jesus had always modeled for him. Resurrection life was being realized as his old identity died.
There, over breakfast, Peter was restored. Jesus’ rescue mission established Peter’s identity as his beloved friend and crystalized his vocation—loving others well. Isn’t the Father endeavoring to always do the same thing for us? We need to ask ourselves: how is Jesus disturbing us? Where are we flailing away, mulling over our fallen natures and their profound power. Perhaps Jesus is saying to us as well: “How is that working out for you? Why don’t you simply acknowledge that you have been crucified with me and, of infinitely more importance, raised to eternal life in me? The old man truly is finished.”
Meditating on our fallen natures is so often our red herring. We must make our claim; His life is our life. His life eternally displaces our old life. Honoring our depravity must be replaced by celebrating His triumph. We must simply abandon that old dirge we’ve been taught and go out and love our neighbors.
Father, help us to see the lifelines you are throwing us. Help us to see where we are flailing away in our own energies. May you receive the reward of your suffering. Lead us into the rest that is ours in Christ. Thank you for your long-suffering efforts to rescue us.