It’s a familiar story. Jesus, with arrest, trial and death imminent, tells his disciples they will shortly be abandoning him.
And Peter, the hotheaded fisherman from Galilee, says, “Not me, Lord! I’m with you to the ned! All the way! Even prison and death!” Jesus then stuns Peter to the depths of his soul, telling him he will deny Jesus three times before the cock crows.
At first, it looks like Peter will follow through. When Jesus is arrested, Peter strikes the ear of one of the servants with a sword (I wonder where the sword came from?). But then it happens. Confronted by the serving girl, Peter denies Jesus exactly three times. He flees in shame when he hears the cock crow.
Here we see Peter in all his utter humanity. I don’t normally identify with the hothead, but I do here. This is where Peter is broken. In a sense, the denial had to happen if Peter was ultimately going to be of any use. Peter is everyman. Peter is us.
After the resurrection, we find Peter and Jesus again talking in threes. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times Peter answers yes, and feels hurt and likely shamed by the third time he answers. But this is not the hothead who answers three times. This is Peter, broken. This is Peter, understanding the limits of his own power (and they’re pretty narrow limits). This is Peter, humbled and honest. And hurt.
The point wasn’t to hurt Peter’s spirit. The point was to remind him of where his power actually came from, and what would sustain Peter in the years ahead.
As Bob Sorge says in The Fire of Delayed Answers, this second conversation wasn’t a faith test. Jesus didn’t ask Peter if he believed in him. He asked Peter if he loved him. It was a love test. And Peter failed that one, too – something that’s not as obvious as the three denials. But the time of the third answer on the love test, Peter realized he couldn’t depend upon himself for anything. Everything came from God, even Peter’s ability to love God.
“Our love is perfected,” Sorge writes, “not when we become strong in love, but when we become so weak that we lean on the Lord for His love to empower us.”
That’s where Peter found himself. The hothead had learned what was likely the most important lesson of his life.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The First of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Quieted by His Love,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Bobbi Jones Jones via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.