Peter had been long vexed, long worried, long wondering what the consequences would be. Would he still be the Lord’s rock, would he still be Peter? Or would John take over. After all, John was there to the bitter end. Surely the Lord would now choose John to lead the Church and that would be right and just.
And in worry and fear Peter went fishing, he needed to get going, to do something, to get out of the house. And then John said to him “it is the Lord.” John recognized Jesus first even as he went to the bitter end with Christ, and knew what he looked like in a way that Peter could not. After all, Peter was busy feeling sorry for himself while Jesus was hanging on the Cross.
And finally it is time, it is time for Jesus and Peter to have…..the talk. Jesus greatly distresses Peter by asking him, “Peter, do you love me with a self sacrificing love?” (in the Greek the word for love that Jesus uses stands for self sacrificing while the word that Peter uses stands for love between friends). And three times Peter responds, “Lord, I love you as a friend.” And this basically means I will have you over for dinner, but no, I don’t love you like that, like the way you are asking. How could he say otherwise?! Peter had just denied the Lord three times. How could he say otherwise?! AND YET our Lord asked him three times requiring him to answer with words of agony, asking him to live out his denial yet again. Let us understand this with crystal clarity! Jesus sets up this situation so that Peter must say three times; “NO LORD, I DO NOT LOVE YOU WITH A SELF SACRIFICING LOVE, but only with a love between friends”
Jesus is asking Peter to reaffirm his love for him three times after the three-fold denial, and Peter does do that; he reaffirms that he loves Jesus as a friend. This was a colossal and humiliating lesson for Peter. Remember the way Peter acted before? Remember how he talked the big talk, how he promised Jesus that he would be with him NO MATTER WHAT. Now Peter was forced to affirm his love for Jesus according to what it really was as opposed to what Peter had said it was before.
Then Jesus tells Peter that he will be martyred, that he will eventually follow Christ to the Cross. And of course Jesus tells Peter three times to feed his sheep, to feed his Church, reaffirming his role as rock even as he teaches Peter a very great lesson in humility.
Jesus wants to teach each of us to learn this very same lesson. By affirming our very great weakness, by acknowledging our lack of love, by seeing our sins clearly, and by repenting of them in a way that greatly distresses us, we come to acknowledge the Divinity of Christ (his total knowledge) and we come to accept his love in our hearts. It is only by accepting this love that we can fulfill the will of God. We can bluster all we want about how devoted we are to Christ, but in the end it will only be because we acknowledged our weakness that we were able to open our hearts to the power of God.
And our thoughts turn to the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus, an act recounted in the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Let us love God with the very great love of Peter, and of the sinful woman, who, even though they had sinned greatly against God, acknowledged their sins with great distress while following the guidance of Christ who continued to ask them whether they loved him. Jesus is asking us too, “do you love me,” “do you love me,” “do you love me?” The answer is not what we automatically imagine it ought to be. Our answer must be two-fold; “we do believe, help our unbelief,” or, “we do love you, Lord, help our lack of love!”
It is in this way that we will accept the almighty power of God within us, it is in this way that we will carry our daily cross, even if like for Peter that means going to our death with great courage led in all boldness by the Holy Ghost.
Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to accept your very great weakness and poverty, to draw near to the love of Christ, and to answer him honestly.
It is in this that we will eventually be able to say “yes Lord, I love you, I will lay down my life for you even as you laid down your life for me!”