Once there was a man named Peter. He was passionate and enthusiastic, and when Jesus asked his opinion on whom he was, Peter got the answer right. Peter was always quick to respond; with a heart ready to obey.
Sometimes, though, Peter’s good intentions went curiously wrong in the execution phase. For example, there had been those heady, gravity defying moments on the water that were followed quickly by panic and a terrifying sinking feeling.
I wonder if that is what lay behind Jesus’ searching questions in John chapter 21. There was never anything accidental in what he said, did, or asked.
“Do you love me?” he asked three times. Each time, Peter assured him, “Yes!” becoming gradually more emphatic, indignant and hurt, as he did.
Each time, Jesus responded with a directive to do the thing that he had called him to do—feed sheep. He meant spiritual food; to sheep of the human kind, of course.
Did Peter see any connection between the repeated question and the events between the Last Supper and the cross?
Had he forgotten that after passionately expressing devotion to Jesus--and swearing never to fail or forsake him--he did both within a few short hours?
It was no surprise to Jesus when Peter fell asleep instead of supporting him in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Or that Peter denied knowing him, under pressure.
No surprise. As Peter pointed out, he knew all things.
But, when the resurrected Jesus caught up with Peter on the beach, he pushed him for more—consistency of heart and action.
Did Peter grasp the challenge and run with it? Not exactly; his response was classically dysfunctional. He turned and looked at a fellow follower and said, “What about him?”
Jesus patiently pressed Peter, “What is that to you?”
If it sounds as if I’m being hard on Peter, trust me, it’s because I see myself in him. I too, am enthusiastic, passionate and know who Jesus is. I too, lack follow through on many of my good intentions.
I am “slightly disorganized,” according to a quiz I recently took; this in spite of an Excel schedule I tried to make work for me. I am easily distracted and sometimes prone to take the easy road. Like Peter, my courage sometimes fails. But none of these excuses hold water; they are all leaky vessels.
Jesus asks me the same searching question he asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
I answer, “Yes, Lord, with all my heart!”
And he says to me, “Then do what I have called you to.”
Peter, transformed at Pentecost, gives me hope. It wasn’t self effort, which is where I get stuck and fail. Peter must have hit rock bottom by the time he met Jesus on the beach, and I think that’s where God needs us in order to find us useful.
He uses people who know that they need more than passionate emotion; people who are desperate for his power; people who have hit bottom and cry, “Help! I give up; to God alone must go the glory.”
I’m there, in that good place; and I am waiting; waiting for God.