A couple Sundays ago, the readings for Mass included the Gospel of John (21:1-19). In that passage, Jesus asks Simon Peter if Peter loves Our Lord. Peter is asked this question three times, forcing Peter to answer in the affirmative three separate times. Every time I have heard this reading, I am struck by how emphatic Peter had to have been by the third time.
As the chaplain began his homily, he drew a correlation between the Passion, when Peter denied the Lord three times, and this passage, where Peter affirmed the Lord three times. Then, the chaplain delved into weightier messages of his homily (which I did listen to – it was actually a captivating homily), but the parallel of “thrice denied, thrice affirmed,” has been on my mind since that Sunday.
Peter is known as the first Pope for the Catholic Church. Peter, however, was far from perfect. Brant Pitre asserts on page 107 in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist:
The point is clear: Jesus would brook no compromise on the mystery of his body and blood. It was a litmus test of discipleship. And how did Peter respond to this test? As spokesman for the Twelve, he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Essentially, Peter was saying, “Lord, I don’t fully grasp what you just said, but I do know who you are.”
If Pitre’s assertion that Peter didn’t fully grasp what the Lord was explaining about the Eucharist is to be believed, and we know Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, then how did this man become the rock upon which Jesus built His church?
Could Peter’s rise to become the ultimate, “fisher of men,” be the result of his unending loyalty and fidelity? Could it be indicative of what can happen when one has the ability to recognize their faults and failures, and then atone for those?
It has also caused me to stop and ask myself – how have I acted like Peter? Have I acted more like the Peter who betrayed Jesus those three times? Have I struggled to understand teachings of the Church, but still continued to maintain that Jesus knows what He is doing, because I recognize His role in my life? Do I consistently act like the Peter who repeatedly answered, “You know I love you”?
Have I shown Jesus, through my thoughts, words, and actions, that He is the one I love and follow, even if I don’t always like the teachings I hear?
So many complex questions, so few easy answers…