The book of John is the only gospel in which we find this part of the story after the resurrection, especially Jesus’ questions to Peter “Do you love me?”. For me, this is a beautiful story of restoration and empowerment, after the hard road of failure, forgiveness and repentance.
Peter, many days before, had been left crying bitterly at his failure and lack of faith. The very day that Peter declared that he would die with Jesus, when asked if he was a disciple, he denied it vehemently. Peter simply caved in to fear and the dread of the unknown after seeing Jesus voluntarily submit to his arrest. When Peter had lopped off the ear of one of the guards, Jesus had healed the man.
Their new kingdom was not one to be created by fighting and martyrdom as the long awaited Messiah against the Roman invaders.
And so we find Peter in the courtyard, watching from a distance. Denying that he even knows Jesus. After the third denial, the cock crowed and Peter was reminded of the words of warning that Jesus had given him – “you will deny me three times”. Peter leaves, crying bitterly.
Repentance and Forgiveness
We know nothing of the internal process that Peter went through of forgiveness and repentance. There are no stories written about those three days from the crucifixion through to resurrection – what was Peter doing?
But I imagine that for those days Peter was in silence… doing nothing… lost in his thoughts. These were not three days of activity or busyness.
Three days of coming to terms with everything. Processing.
Playing through in his mind, over and over, the conversation where Jesus had warned him “you will deny me 3 times” and each and every denial that night in the courtyard as he had watched Jesus lead away.
And somehow, during those three days, I believe Peter came to forgive himself.
Forgiveness is something that we actively choose. It is a conscious choice that we make –
I choose to release myself from the burden, pain & stress of holding onto this way of thinking, speaking, feeling and acting!https://blackant.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/forgiveness-what-why-how/
I can only imagine that Peter might have use d a very simple and basic formula for forgiveness – one that any one of us could also use:
- I love you Jesus
- I am so sorry that my faith was not strong enough to say yes, I know him and he’s my friend and I am his disciple, when I was asked in the courtyard. I am so sorry that I said I would die with you and for you and when I was put to the test, I was scared and denied I even knew you. I am so sorry that when I had the chance to be true, I turned and fled.
- Please forgive me.
- Thank you.
I’ve often wondered whether it was harder for Peter to forgive himself than it was to accept Jesus’ forgiveness?
Because, in my mind, Peter did not simply let Jesus down.
- He broke his word.
- He shattered his own image of himself.
- He thought himself faithful. He discovered this had a limit and that his faith was not as strong as he believed it to be.
- He thought himself brave and ready to face death – and discovered he was a coward.
- He discovered that his faith was not a “rock”.
Which do you think was harder?
- Accepting that Jesus had already forgiven him, seated at the dinner table that night when he warned you will deny me three times, or
- forgiving himself?
The road to restoration
The road to restoration is paved with experiences of regret and forgiveness of self. It’s not only accepting God’s forgiveness. You have to also let it all go yourself – the same way that God forgives you!
My personal experience has taught me that it’s often easier to accept God’s forgivness than it is to forgive myself and truly release those inner feelings of guilt and shame.
Do you find it easier to accept that God loves than to stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself “I love you“? “I love you” just as I am today. I totally accept myself, knowing that I might have mistaken views and perceptions of the world, perceptions that have not allowed me to grow and change my situation. “I love you” with all the baggage that I have chosen to carry around. And I love you.
I’m sorry. Once I recognise this, I can tell myself “Sorry”. Sorry for the errors of thought, words and actions. Perhaps it is baggage and weight that you have been carrying with you for years, unnecessarily. Maybe you’ve refused to let go of something earlier, a resentment against another person, and you have chosen to continue carrying it. Knowing that you have a choice. Knowing that you are called to forgive. And still carrying it.
Or maybe you’ve been beating yourself up for years about a certain habit or type of behaviour or thought pattern. You accept that God forgives you, and yet YOU haven’t forgiven yourself.
It’s time, like Peter, to tell yourself “I’m sorry“. Not to Jesus. Not to God. But to yourself. Because the forgiveness and restoration needs to be complete.
Please forgive me – is giving myself permission to release that – to set myself free. Sometimes, to help myself with releasing I take a big breath and then blow all of it out of me – imagining that I am letting it all go. At other times, I will energetically wave my arms or stomp my feet – imagine that I am stomping it all from my body. And then letting it go. Relaxing. Knowing it is done.
And a Thank You – to God and to myself for freedom.
I want to finish looking at the exchange that takes place between Peter and Jesus on the sea of Galilee, after the disciples pull in the net full of fish. That’s a lesson for another day.
21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”John 21
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
21:16 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.”
21:17 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.
Now, I know that some pastors and writers theorize that as Peter denied Jesus three times, it was important for him the three times confirm his love for Jesus.
But I believe that Jesus was making sure for Peter that Peter had forgiven himself and had done the inner work needed to let go of his personal guilt and shame. This is not about Jesus’ relationship with Peter. This is about Peter‘s relationship with Peter – and consequently, Peter’s relationship with the Divine.
If Peter hasn’t done the inner work – how can he go forward and do the work that he is called to?
If you haven’t done the inner work – how can you do the service that you are called for?
Jesus starts with “do you love me more than these?”. Why – because when Peter declared his willingness to die for Jesus, he was declaring that he loved Jesus more than the rest. Have you come full circle to a place where you can say, once again, that you really love me, like you said before failure? Are you truly restored?
As with any story in the Bible, this isn’t just about Peter and his relationship with Jesus and the Divine.
This is a story about you. And your relationship.
What do you need to forgive yourself for in order to step into your power and service that you were called for?
You are asked “Do you love me?”
Revised Common Lectionary:
- John 21: 1-19 (Jesus to Peter – “Do you love me?”)
- Acts 9: 1-6 (7-20) (conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus)