June 13th 2010
Failure And Forgiveness
“Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.’”
John 13:37-38 (NIV)
Ever wondered whether God is fed up with you? That might well have been Peter’s concern after he denied Jesus the night when Jesus was arrested and condemned.
The Gospel of John, chapter 21, tells us that several weeks after those events, Peter and six other disciples had been hard at work all night on the Sea of Galilee, but every hopeful cast of their nets pulled in empty. As dawn broke, someone appeared on the shore, shouting for them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. They did as he said and caught so many fish they could barely haul the net ashore. Then the disciples realised that the stranger on the shore was Jesus. He already had a fire going, with fish on the coals and bread baked. He called them over to eat with him.
When they finished, Jesus asked Peter some embarrassing questions. Embarrassing because, before his arrest, Jesus told the disciples they would all fall away. Peter argued vigorously, but yet he did disown Jesus—three times! Now, as they rested together on the seashore, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you really love me more than the other disciples?” Remembering his former braggadocio, Peter must have felt ashamed. He answered, “You know I love you.” Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.”
Peter probably didn’t know what Jesus meant, and it must have been a little disconcerting when Jesus asked again, “Do you truly love me?” Peter probably looked at the ground and mumbled in a strained voice, “Yes, you know I love you.” “Feed my sheep,” Jesus repeated.
John tells us Peter was grieved when Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” “Lord,” Peter pleaded, “You know all things. You know I love you.” “Feed my sheep,” Jesus told him again.
Three denials; three failures. That’s Peter’s story. But rather than condemnation, Jesus gives Peter three invitations to restoration—“Do you love me?”—followed by three affirmations of trust and confidence: “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus saw what Peter could not see. He knew Peter’s failure. He was under no illusions about Peter’s inability to be faithful under pressure. Yet Jesus came to him precisely in that failure, forgiving, helping, and encouraging him—not only accepting Peter in spite of his weakness, but entrusting him with duties of the kingdom.
Peter felt unworthy. And he was. But Jesus made him worthy. The disciples’ weaknesses and disloyalty did not destroy their relationship with him. His love for them had not diminished in the slightest. He was still their Lord, their Master and their friend. The same is true of us. Even in our unworthiness, Jesus makes us worthy—full of worth to the One who gave himself for us, and who never stops loving us.
Holy Father, thank you for the encouragement you give us through the story of Peter. Though he failed you three times, you restored him. How encouraging! Knowing that we fail you all the time too, and yet in exactly the same way you restore us.