Character Profile: The Disciple Peter
Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”
Peter was the Rock. That’s what his name meant, and there is something sturdy and rough-hewn about him whenever we meet him in the Gospels. One might interpret that it was as if he was always wanting to be consistent in his devotion; “Look, Jesus, I’ll forgive people seven times! . . . Look, Jesus, I can walk on water too! . . . Everyone else may desert you, but not me!”
When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter gave the perfect answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. This statement won high praise from Jesus. It must have been a highlight of Peter’s life. The Lord announced that he would build his new community on Peter and his faith. This fisherman had finally arrived.
But a few verses later, when Peter tried to discourage Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die, he earned a strong rebuke. And as the drumbeats pounded toward the crucifixion, Peter was often at odds with his own faith —trying to prevent Jesus from washing his feet, pulling a sword at Jesus’ arrest and cutting off someone’s ear, and ultimately denying that he even knew Jesus. Three times.
So it’s a beautiful thing that, after the resurrection, when they met again on the shores of Galilee, Jesus gave Peter a chance to say, “I love you.” Three times. God redeemed every moment Peter denied him.
In this moment, Peter learned mercy.
Maybe you know what it’s like to live in shame. Peter had done exactly what he said he’d never do, publicly rejecting his friend Jesus. All of his great intentions—to be a solid rock for Jesus to rely on, to be the Best Disciple Ever, to stay true to the end—had come crashing down. What could he say? His promises now sounded hollow. He had nothing to offer Jesus anymore, just the tiniest flicker of love.
Still, Jesus spoke to Peter as a friend, and he began the rebuilding process, first within this tormented disciple, and then upon this rock. A new community would be built, not on the perfection of its members, but on a confession and testimony to the powerful mercy of its Lord.
Like Peter, we are drawn back to the moment we first fell to our feet and declared, “depart from me, for I am a sinner”.
Our Lord still offers mercy to those who don’t deserve it, to those who stand before him empty and ashamed, whose only claim is the faintest flame of love.