April 17, 2016
Have you ever given thought to the variety of ways you have identified yourself? From early childhood on, we use a variety of identifying terms -- who our parents are, where we live, where we go (or went) to school, where we work, and in other circumstances, who our spouse or children are. Part of growing up is sorting out the various "parts" and discovering one's own unique identity. After all, even if I'm happy to be my parents' daughter, my husband's wife, and my children's mom, I like to be my own self as well!
Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, people are identified in similar fashion -- by their ancestors, their position in the community, their home country, and even by their reputation. This custom is made apparent when Jesus engages his disciples in an unusual conversation. He asks them who people say that he is, and they tell him that some say he is a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet. Then Jesus asks the crucial question: "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter responds, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." This powerful statement and Jesus' declaration that Peter is the rock on which he will build his church are filled with drama and promise. It's all pretty heady stuff for the fisherman who took a leap of faith to follow this preacher from Nazareth.
But life has a way of humbling us and providing reality checks, however painful. Gathered in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples share the Passover Meal, following which he tells them they will all become deserters. Peter declares his loyalty to the death, but later that night, when asked three times. if he is one of those with Jesus, he denies it vehemently. A short time later, a rooster crows to welcome the dawn of morning, and Jesus' words come back to devastate Peter. It was too late to take back his words of betrayal. All he could do was weep bitterly, hating himself for turning away from the person he had declared to be the Son of God.
Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to various small groups of disciples and other believers. The first time Peter sees Jesus with his own eyes, they are sitting by a lake, speaking quietly, and Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Peter replies, "Yes, Lord," and each time Jesus then tells Peter to feed and tend his sheep. Interesting, isn't it, the parallel of Peter's three-time denial, Jesus' deliberate repetition three times over of the same question, getting the same answer, and responding with the same command.
This kind of parallel beautifully illustrates for us that although time after time we fall short, Jesus picks us up an equal number of times, and gives us our tasks, along with the strength and ability to carry them out. Through Christ's death and resurrection, Peter is no longer the weak, very human man who failed to stand up for the One he followed. He has a new identity, as do we all, and it's the only one we need: Redeemed and Beloved Child of God.
Your friend in Christ,
Sources: Lutheran Study Bible, John:16:13-20, Matthew 26:69-75, John 21