There is an exchange between Jesus and His disciple, Peter, that I love reading over and over again:
“After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others?’ ‘Yes,’ Peter replied, ‘you know that I do.’ ‘Then feed my lambs,’ Jesus told him.’ ‘Jesus repeated the question: ‘Simon, son of John, do you really love me?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I am your friend.’ ‘Then take care of my sheep,’ Jesus said. Once more he asked him, ‘Simon, son of John, are you even my friend?’ Peter was grieved at the way Jesus asked this question this third time. ‘Lord, you know my heart; you know I am,’ he said. Jesus said, ‘Then feed my little sheep. When you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and others will direct you and take you where you don’t want to go.’ Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Them Jesus told him, ‘Follow me.’ ” (John 21:15-19)
I don’t pretend to know why Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him three times. I like to imagine that Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him three times because Peter had denied his friendship with Jesus three times “before the rooster crowed” when Jesus was arrested prior to His crucifixion. On the third time Peter had denied Him, Jesus turned and looked at Peter — and Peter walked away, crying bitterly (Luke 22:54-62). I like to imagine that when Jesus later asked Peter three times whether he loved Him, it was to give Peter an opportunity to address the three times he had denied Jesus. I like to imagine that it was Jesus’ way of demonstrating that He knew Peter could love him, be His friend, and still deny Him; and that Jesus could forgive Peter for it and remain his friend.
I know I’m not in the same league as His disciple Peter, and I don’t pretend that I am. But I am human as Peter was. And I have denied Jesus in the past as Peter did, even though I have loved Jesus since I was a child.
This exchange between Jesus and Peter reassures me that Jesus understands my weaknesses and that His love for me is a love of second chances… and third chances… and as many chances as I require in my struggle to get it right. All He asks of me in return is that I love Him, believe in Him, and be His friend to the best of my ability. And that I love all others and don’t overlook their needs in the process of attending to mine.
Like Peter, my days as a child are past. Gone are the days that I can do whatever I like and go wherever I want to go. For I have given myself to Jesus and I am trying to follow Him — sometimes to places I admittedly don’t want to go.
In truth, I’m not a very good Christian. I sometimes wonder why Jesus bothers with me at all. I recognize my shortcomings and I have no illusions that I’m getting it right all of the time. With God’s grace, I get it right some of the time. On better days, I get it right most of the time. But the great thing about my friendship with Jesus is that He doesn’t seem to mind. Like the good friend He is, Jesus keeps encouraging me and loving me no matter what blunders I make.
Jesus is my shepherd, my friend, and my savior. His love is not exclusive to me. He invites anyone who believes in Him to follow. But if you follow, lead with your heart for your head will only get in the way.
Jesus knows us for who we are and He loves us. Unworthy as we are and as unforgivable as we may seem, our belief in Jesus and God’s loving forgiveness will make it all right. Jesus’ relationship with Peter teaches us that Jesus is the perfect friend. He asks nothing of us that He hasn’t already given us willingly — only infinitely more.
I pray we may all find friendship with Jesus so that when Jesus asks us whether we are His friend, we too may answer Him honestly: “Lord, you know my heart; you know that I am.”
Photo: “Friends” by Jazzdat