Today we’ve got a great story: not catching fish, catching fish, sharing breakfast, feeding sheep… But before we really dig into that, we need to take a look at the background. Specifically, let’s look at the background of one of the main characters, Peter. We’ll rely on the gospel of John to give us the facts, and the basic 🙂 and 🙁 emoticons for color commentary.
In John 1:40-42 Peter is introduced to Jesus by his brother, Andrew. There must have been some kind of natural bond here, because immediately after meeting the one born “Simon” gets a nickname: “The Rock,” or in Greek, “Petros.” A nickname from Jesus Christ. Does it get any cooler than that?
Next, in John 6:8-9, Peter is the one who questions whether or not it’s possible to feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Not a terrible moment for “The Rock” – Jesus doesn’t reprimand him for this or anything – but not exactly the poster child for believing either.
A mild :(.
Not to worry. In John 6:68 Peter delivers a mic-dropper. Jesus is noticing that some of his followers are dropping out because his teachings are “too difficult” (v. 60). So he gives his inner twelve a bail out option: “Do you also wish to go away?” (v. 67). To which Peter replies, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Boom!
Next comes the Last Supper, where things get confusing for Peter. First, in John 13:6-9 Jesus wants to wash his feet. Peter is decidedly not cool with that, until Jesus says it’s a mandatory thing. Then Peter flips to the opposite extreme and tells Jesus, “Well, don’t stop at my feet then – wash my hands and head too!” (v. 9), which Jesus deems unnecessary. I see Peter here trying to do the right thing – refuse to be served by his master, or completely subject himself to it – but he just doesn’t quite get it.
Not long after Jesus calls Peter out with a prediction: He will deny Jesus. Three times.
In John 18:10-11 they’re in the Garden of Gethsemane and the crowd has come to take Jesus. Peter has already shown that he will do anything for Jesus and also that he is not very clear on what that “anything” should be. So with a similar amount of misguided enthusiasm, he draws his sword and cuts off someone’s ear. Jesus calls this violent way off. “Don’t stand in the way of me and what God would have me do,” he tells Peter (in essence; v. 11).
This is nothing compared to what Peter does next, though. In 18:15-27 comes Peter’s denial. He has three chances to get it right; three times he gets it wrong. “I don’t know him, I don’t know him, I don’t know him!” And the cock crows.
🙁 🙁 🙁
Fortunately, this is not the end of Peter’s story. John puts him as one of the first ones at the empty tomb on Easter morning, along with Mary Magdalene and “the disciple Jesus loved.” When they see it, they believe. He’s not there. He’s risen!
Peter’s career so far begins and ends on a high note, but there’s a lot of trouble in paradise in between. Here’s a recap of that emoticon commentary:
🙁 🙁 🙁
If these colons and parentheses accurately represent Peter’s emotional state (how could they not?), then it seems like that happy ending might be overshadowed a bit by the series of confusion and failures (and confusing failures) at the end. It certainly looks that way from the story for today – Peter, the failed fisherman who can’t catch any fish. Peter, the failed disciple who didn’t live up to his solid-as-a-rock nickname.
But with Jesus, redemption is possible.
Jesus asks Peter a question in this story: “Do you love me?” In fact, Jesus asks it more than once. And more than twice. Three times Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me?” This is not because he isn’t listening when Peter answers him. It’s because he’s giving Peter a chance to do-over his three-fold betrayal. He’s letting Peter respond, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” And when he does, he replaces those final 🙁 🙁 🙁 with 🙂 🙂 :).
What a gift, right? Can you think of a moment in life you’d like to do-over? A chance to say the right words instead of those stupid words that popped out of your mouth before you could stop them? Peter gets to do that. And we might all be jealous, if…
…if we didn’t get to do the same thing every day.
Because of the cross, we know we have forgiveness whenever we ask for it. Any debt required by our sins has already been paid by that tremendous sacrifice. But we aren’t forgiven so that we have a carte blanche to go and repeat the same sins again. We’re forgiven to be set free from sin, so that we can wake up each day with a chance to do better.
So let’s say yesterday you did something you regret. You talked about someone behind their back. You crossed a boundary you shouldn’t have. You took something that wasn’t yours. You ended the day L, kneeling in prayer and asking forgiveness.
The next day you wake up with another chance. The slate is wiped clean, so you are set free to do differently. You choose your words carefully. You choose your actions more carefully. You respect what belongs to others. Whatever it is, you do it differently. J!
Or let’s say yesterday you didn’t do something you ought to have done. You saw someone at a restaurant who’s going through a hard time, and you thought about buying their meal… but you didn’t. Or you thought about visiting a home-bound neighbor… but you didn’t. Or you thought about going to church… but you didn’t. L
The next morning, you ask God forgiveness and you give it another go. You give more generously of your money and your time. You spend time with God. J!
This is the new chance that we wake up to every day.
And did you notice: each time, after Peter says he loves Jesus, Jesus asks him to do something: feed his lambs, tend his sheep, feed his sheep. Peter is called to lead Jesus’ flock, and Jesus is saying, “Yeah, you messed up when you denied me. But I forgive you; I’ve called you to do something; so if you love me, just go live into what I’ve called you to do. We’re good here.”
(Or something like that.)
This is the work forgiveness does in our lives, too. We aren’t shackled to our sin; we are liberated from it. Every morning – every moment! – we have a chance to start a do-over. To let that old stuff go and live into what God is calling us to do.
So: do you need a do-over? Do you need to turn a run of :(s into a series of :)s?
If so, imagine Jesus Christ asking you these questions. Give your own affirmative answers; say them out loud, if you’re in a place where you can. This shot at redemption is for us, too.
Do you love me?
Feed my lambs. Do you love me?
Tend my sheep. Do you love me?
Feed my sheep.