I don’t know about you, but I tend to make the same mistakes over and over. I say the wrong thing, neglect the right thing, hurt someone, fail to show hopefulness or kindness or peace.
Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times during the hours of Jesus’ greatest need of friendship. What a fear-filled, disappointing, unfaithful response to the dangerous situation Jesus and the disciples were experiencing. Then Jesus was gone, with no way for Peter to apologize, try to right the wrong, reconstitute the relationship.
Except Jesus returned to them at the shore, helped them fish, cooked them breakfast on the beach.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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…” After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Three times Peter harms his friend and teacher. Three times Jesus calls him out and requires an answer: Do you love me? Peter is hurt, surely embarrassed in front of the others, wonders why Jesus is badgering him.
Yet, this repetition of both the terrible failing and the painful restitution of Peter were written down for future generations. I believe it’s because both failure and growth are part of a life of faith, and common to any follower.
We fall short of our perfect ideals and intentions, and we repeat those failings, no matter how hard we try and how much progress we make. Even so, we back up and make another go at faithfulness. In the same way that our shortcomings are sadly repetitive, so our steps toward growth are also repetitive—graciously so. We’re called to remember whom and what we love; we’re called to follow. We’re called to feed and tend all the people of earth. And we learn to repeat the spiritual practices that bring us growth:
- sharing the grace we’ve received;
- receiving forgiveness;
- offering forgiveness;
- preparing our hearts to be open to faith, hope, love, courage.
“Do you love me?” Then follow.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2016