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"Do you Love me?" Peter's Reconciliation

“He is Risen”! Is the cry we heard at Easter, and what a joyous and victorious shout that is. The forgiveness of sins and reconciliation of relationship is fulfilled! The story doesn’t end there, though. Or, rather, the unfolding of the wholeness of it is ongoing. Resurection finalized our ability to heal and find reconciliation. We see this in Peter’s encounter with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Bible. It is a beautiful picture of forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Let’s look in as we see the failure and traumas, but more importantly, the process of Peter’s healing.

We should start back at the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we see typical Peter (also known as Simon) impulsively acting on his current emotion. He’s all fired up, ready to fight to defend Jesus. While this sounds like a good thing, Jesus himself called Peter down earlier for declaring his denial of Jesus’ death. Peter, like me, and like many of us, likes to jump on the first good-sounding thing and run with it. He declares that he will never fail Jesus “even if everyone else falls away.” His impulsivity gets him in trouble many times. In the Garden, we see him go so far as to cut the ear off of one of the servants there with the men arresting Jesus. I often wonder if he was aiming for his neck… either way, it was not the proper response. Peter acted in his own understanding instead of gaining wisdom by paying attention to what Jesus said.

Jesus has told the disciples many times and in many ways that he is going to die, that he is going where they cannot follow, and that he is preparing their future. Jesus knew what was coming, even from Peter. However, Peter is still stuck on the traditional teaching that the messiah will be an earthly, governmental-type power. He has yet to grasp the eternality of the Kingdom Jesus is bringing. This clouds his view and judgment as he makes decisions. He reacts in fear, impulse, and ignorance as things unfold in ways he never imagined.

We see a shift in direction as the impending sentencing of Jesus comes. As foretold by Jesus, Peter denies he even knows the man he so recently and vehemently defended. As Peter walks through the confusing and painful time of losing one of his best friends, thinking his faith has possibly been put in the wrong place, his dreams shattering around his feet - he reacts in fear and defeat. Three times Peter denies being one of Jesus' followers, at one point even flinging epithets to emphasize his sincerity. As he warms himself at a charcoal fire, he is recognized by a servant girl to whom he says, “I don’t know him.” Within an hour or two, he denies knowing Jesus 2 more times.

Peter quickly regrets his behavior; as soon as the rooster crowed, he “went and wept bitterly.” Thankfully he doesn’t stay in that state - he repents and turns his heart back to his savior. He is the first of the 11 faithful disciples to see the empty grave when the women come to tell them; the others’ first reaction is doubt, but Peter up and runs to see for himself. Even so, he still isn’t really sure what to do next and returns to his former profession of fishing, where Jesus first called him. And this is where the risen Jesus meets him again.

John 21:1 - 25
After this, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved, therefore, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now, none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to 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 grieved 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus comes to them at the place he first called them; not only that, but he reveals himself by giving the same command and providing in the same miraculous way he did when he called them! This was the second time he had caused a big catch when there had been nothing. I love how God brings us back to the roots of our calling! When we drift away from our purpose and focus and find ourselves back in the old, familiar rut, Jesus comes alongside us and calls us back. He reminds us of who he is. He also called them “children,” reminding them of who they were to him and how beloved they were.

Peter, our impulsive, full-of-big-feelings fisherman, grabs his shirt, throws it on, and jumps out of the boat to run full-on to Jesus. I’m almost positive he ran right into Jesus' arms for a huge hug, though scripture doesn’t give that detail. I wonder, too, if seeing that fire burning there reminded Peter of the fire he warmed his hands by on the night he betrayed Jesus. The old guilt and doubt of himself must have returned; I know the fresh wounds of trauma all too well. But Jesus calls them to have breakfast with him. I see such a beautiful call to reconciliation in this gesture too. Jesus says, "Come, sit and eat with me, my children."

After eating with the group, we see Jesus take some time with Peter one-on-one. He walks with him

and asks, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter, probably partially in his own head fighting with those feelings of guilt again, replies, “Yes, Lord, you know I do.” Is this maybe one of those big, emphatic statements designed to convince not just the one being spoken to but the speaker as well? Jesus replies with, “Feed my lambs.” He calls Peter back to his roots, his purpose that was given the first time Jesus called him. Jesus asks him two more times - three “Do you love me” questions for three “I don’t even know him” denials. Forgiveness - personal, individual, intentional, specific, forgiveness. Three reminders of the original calling and purpose, calls to return to right relationship. Reconciliation - reconnecting what was broken in all the places it was broken. Three asks for connection. There were trauma triggers (charcoal fire, Jesus' questions), but they walked through them together. Peter didn't like it, and it hurt to talk through it, but that process of reconciliation led to healing.

Contrast this with Judas, who did not repent or ask for forgiveness. He died in his despair, with no reconciliation to be had. He found it too hard to confess and do the work of repenting. Peter, however, consistently strove to regain what he had lost. Jesus loved them both, but only one of the two recognized and accepted the offered love and healing.

Will you be courageous and walk through the triggers? Will you trust Jesus to forgive and repair? Have the hard conversations, work through and allow God to redeem the people, places, songs, and events that bring up those feelings of guilt. The times and things that tempt you to fall back into your familiar rut, to forget who you really are. It is ALL redeemable. Embrace the love and identity Jesus offers. It hurts to go through the process, but so does surgery - both life-saving necessities!

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