Me and Peter

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.

Lest anyone think this is my inspiration, it is not. I borrowed this from Chuck Swindoll.

The fire crackled on the beach as the disciples and Jesus ate breakfast. I wonder if Simon “the rock” Peter* was nervous. It was one of those moments. There was plenty of free time, and a conversation was inevitable. Jesus had broken the bread and the fish, but He hadn’t disappeared. It appeared that he might be staying for a while.

Did Peter open his mouth a few times, then realize he had nothing whatsoever to say to the Messiah that he’d denied? To his closest friend, whom he’d said he never knew? Did he know that a conversation was inevitable?

Finally, after breakfast was over, they all sat around the lightly dancing fire. Finally, Jesus ended the agony of the waiting, only to replace it with a different kind of agony.

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”

He had used the word. “Agape.” Unconditional, undying love. Utter and total devotion. And not just agape, but agape more than the others.

What can you say to someone, when just days or weeks before you had denied that you even knew who they were? What kind of agony comes with that kind of disloyalty? And how does it feel, when it is done, and you realize that, if given the chance, you could probably do it again? And to your best friend, no less?

I imagine that Simon, son of John, no longer referred to as Peter, or “Rock,” looked down at the sand, then finally raised his eyes to meet those of his master.

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Simon used a different word. Phileo. “We’re good pals, buddy. I like you a lot… and I’m very fond of you.” Agape was too strong a word for someone like Peter. Chuck Swindoll points out that a few weeks ago, before the first Good Friday, Peter would have been insulted by such a question. Agape? Heavens no… whatever love is HIGHER than agape, THAT is what I feel for my Messiah, Jesus!

I imagine his eyes dropping after he spoke the words.

Jesus spoke. Did Simon look up? “Feed my lambs.” After studying the sand for a while, he looked up again. Into the piercing, loving eyes of Jesus.

Another question. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Agape again. But with no qualifiers, like “more than these.” Do you agape-love me at all? Why did Jesus insist on this?

Had I been Simon, I would have lowered my head. Another long, embarassing silence. Back up to the eyes that were waiting to know my answer, as if they didn’t already.

The same answer, in the same words. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Phileo. I’m very fond of you.

The answer came back again. “Tend my sheep.”

Did their eyes meet, for a long moment? Did a sort of understanding pass between the man and his maker? Did Jesus’ eyes search Simon’s soul? Perhaps a tilted head, and one final question.

“Simon, son of John… do you love me?” Phileo. Is that all you feel for me?

“Yes, Lord.” As much an agreement as an admital. Phileo. And that was all. And Jesus didn’t only know with his mind, he knew from experiencing it.

“Feed my sheep.”

Simon had changed. The once brash, bold, “I’ll-die-before-I-betray-you” Simon “The Rock” Peter had had an epiphany of sorts. He had met the real Simon, and he knew him only too well. Jesus did too. I’m very fond of you, Jesus… but I know myself too well. I’m fond of you, but that’s all. I’m sorry.

And Jesus accepted his answer.

As I listened to that story on the radio this morning, told as only Charles R. Swindoll can retell it, I saw Simon’s heart beating inside of my flesh. I, the once pious young man who prayed quite boldly, “Father, what you did in sending Jesus for us, what He went through… if you never gave us another blessing, it would take eternity and we wouldn’t be through thanking you enough for only what you’ve done already.”

I was bold, pious, and utterly pharisaical.  And I was humbled. It only took one single blessing dropping out of my life for me to wonder if God was even real, if He loved me even a little tiny bit… if God cared. Pious, holy David who prayed “if you never gave us one more blessing”, when faced with the loss of only one blessing, turned into a miserable, weepy, pathetic mess. “Never one more blessing” echoes in my mind. Like “No, Lord! I will never deny you!” probably echoed in Simon’s.

Like Simon, I have met myself. A good look in the mirror, and I don’t like what I see in my heart. I don’t think Peter did either… but he was honest. Chuck Swindoll said that God values integrity above perfection. In the Psalms it says “You desire truth in the inmost being,” so I guess he’s right.

But I find hope on that beach by the sea of Tiberius. Jesus didn’t condemn Simon, son of John for not Agape-ing him… more than anyone else… or at all. He knew that would come later. But there was no hope for progress until Simon knew that he was not quite the loyal follower he thought himself to be. That, like Paul put it, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power is from God, and not from us.”

Simon had no illusions after that morning by the seashore with Jesus. And I do not either. I wish i could imagine that I am some kind of holy man… but like Peter, I find my heart all too willing to say “Jesus WHO? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My heart saddened by the knowing that I’ve loved another more than the One who died for me, and that I could do it again, given the chance. I don’t want to, but I have seen the inside of my soul. I know what lies within me.

But.

I love that word.

But.

The grace of God. After that conversation, Jesus got up and started walking. Simon followed.

“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.”

I wonder if Simon knew that he would be crucified at the end of his existence on earth. If he smiled as the nails cut his flesh and crushed his bones… because he had finally, finally answered the question. “Yes, Lord. I agape you. More than these. More than any others. Yes, Lord. I love you.”

In that raw, emotional story, I find hope. Because after Jesus went back up into heaven, Peter was right in the middle of the apostles. He was in the heat of it, in the thick of it, and probably the ringleader of those people who told the priests “We must obey God, rather than men,” then took his 39 lashes for Jesus.

Only Jesus works that kind of change. The ones who once denied recognize themselves for who they are… and then Jesus does that kind of life-transforming.

“David, do you love me more than these?” I hang my head with Peter and reply, “You know that I’m fond of you.”  The questions go through my mind. And I answer. It is not the best of answers, nor is it the one I wish it were, but it is the truth. And He accepts it. Why does He accept it?

Because Jesus loves me. Agape. Unconditional, undying, utterly devoted love. And nothing I can do will change it. Maybe one day He will empower me to love Him back, in the same way.

He did it for Peter.

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*Peter comes from “petra”, or “rock”.

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