Coming home from our New York Conference, where many of you picked up the conference edition of The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day), this morning’s devotion comes from DZ.
[Christ] 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (ESV)
A quick recap of Peter’s “greatest hits” in the New Testament:
a) When Jesus tells him to walk on water, Peter is afraid and sinks.
b) Peter tries to persuade Jesus that he will not have to die, to which Jesus responds: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God the the things of men.”
c) He falls asleep in Gethsemane, three times, after being asked three times not to do so.
d) He denies Jesus three times, despite his protestations after being told in uncertain terms that was going to do so.
e) He draws his sword in Gethsemane and is rebuked for it.
f) He gets rebuked asking about John, the beloved disciple (“What is it to you?”).
g) We are even told that, after the disciples first hear reports of the Resurrection, Peter loses the race to the empty tomb.
It would seem that nearly everything Peter does in the Gospels ends in a correction, a rebuke, or a red-cheeked failure. With one notable exception, of course: when asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and he is the first of the disciples to do so. Otherwise, though, one almost wonders whether Jesus’ name for him, which means “rock,” was an ironic gesture. Far from acting as a stable leader of the faith, when it was time for action, he could be relied upon to fail. Indeed, short of him rejecting the faith entirely, it is hard to imagine a worse Christian than Peter. And yet in this passage, the resurrected Christ gives Peter even more authority than he had before. Why?
In his early novel The Cabala, the great American writer Thornton Wilder gives us a clue: “All gods and heroes are by nature the enemies of Christianity… Only a broken will can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Finally tired out with the cult of themselves they give in. They go over. They renounce themselves.”
It is no coincidence that Peter is both the weakest and the one who recognizes who Jesus is. He can recognize the savior because he knows how much needs one. The archetypal Christian is not a person who looks like Jesus, but a person who looks like she needs Jesus. Many of us are full of shame deep down because of our private failures and our private fears. Like Peter, we question whether God would love us and care for us if He really knew what went on—and how we really feel—and if He really knew how little we think about Him some days, and how often we choose our own desires over His commands.
The comfort that Peter finds on the beach is our comfort, too, that the only thing God requires of you and me is our deep-seeded and ongoing need. Like Peter, we are met in our shame and embarrassment and to our great surprise, given the opposite of what we deserve.