Friday, May 13, 2016


By Colleen O’Sullivan

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103:11-12)

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was distressed that he had said to him a 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.”  (John 21:15-17)

Lord, grant me the gift of remorse when I betray you in sin and the gift of deep gratitude when you show me the very mercy and forgiveness you extended to Peter.   

This Gospel reading is one of my favorite Scripture passages.  There’s so much in it.  First, we have Jesus looking for the lost.  Peter is full of remorse and shame at how he has treated his friend.  Jesus comes looking for Peter to offer him forgiveness and to restore their friendship.  Jesus never stopped loving Peter, but that is hard for Peter to accept in the face of his acts of betrayal.  It’s difficult for all of us to truly believe that Jesus’ love for us is unconditional, that he doesn’t stop loving us when we stray, that he looks for us to offer us forgiveness.

Peter means well.  He’s eager to please, but throughout the gospels we see various instances where he just doesn’t seem to get what Jesus is about.  A suffering Messiah is inconceivable to Peter.  He doesn’t want anything to happen to his friend.  A servant Messiah who washes the feet of his disciples is unimaginable to Peter.  It should be the other way around.  That he would deny knowing Jesus not once but three times was incomprehensible to him in advance.  He loves Jesus.  Yet he does exactly what Jesus predicts at the Last Supper.  But who among us is going to point a finger at Peter?  We call ourselves Christians, but learning what it means to be a disciple is the work of a lifetime.  Being a servant to others, carrying our crosses is no easier to do now than it was in Jesus’ day, except that Jesus walks beside us every step of the way.

I love the symmetry of these verses with what came before.  A charcoal fire in the courtyard where Peter three times denied knowing Jesus is balanced by a charcoal fire on the beach, where Jesus asks Peter three times whether Peter loves him.  I guess Peter hasn’t entirely given up his cluelessness, because the first two times, Jesus uses the word “agape,” the purest, most selfless form of love.  Peter answers him using the word “phileo,” a love that implies more the sort of affection we might have for a sibling or a close friend.  I guess Jesus decides to accept that as the best Peter has to offer at the moment, because during the third question and response, they both use “phileo.”  I am glad Jesus accepts the best we have to offer, because there are many times when I fail to love with an agape type of love.

Jesus doesn’t hold Peter’s betrayal against him, because he says to his friend, if you really love me, then I am entrusting my entire flock to you.  If you truly love me, I am asking you to feed my sheep.  If we are the friends I think we are, then please take care of my flock.  Watch over them.  Keep them together.  Keep them in my name.

What a story of hope for all of us!  As difficult as it is to believe at times, Jesus doesn’t hold our sins against us, either.  Once we are forgiven, as the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”

Take a few minutes to listen to Forgiven Forever sung by Mark Harris.  As you hear the words, reflect on the many times God has bestowed on you the grace of forgiveness of sin.

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