How many times have I replayed that morning’s conversation? Reclining beside our breakfast fire, Jesus across the flames. We had just finished a breakfast of roast fish and toasted bread. The sun was coaxing the waves to carve fresh wrinkles in the sand. It wedged itself between the sea and the sky.
I kept my head down, my eyes cast low as the others indulged in intimate conversation. The mortifying wounds of my betrayal had barely scabbed over in the last weeks. It would be years before they healed. I had publicly declared that I didn’t know him, that I had nothing to do with him.
In an instant, I had chosen to deny all those meals we had shared. I had renounced his touch, all the healings, his words and my grandiose promises. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as he stared at me over that the evening fire.
That night, I would have told you that I was waiting for the right moment. I was waiting for the opportune moment to rise up and brandish my Zealot’s sword! I would defend the Master!
Jesus had been bound, surrounded by an accusing mob of hypocritical religious types. I squatted nearby with a number of servants, none I knew, and John. We pressed close to a fire, listening as Jesus was interrogated. Three skewers of roast fish were burning over the open flame. A young girl leaned over and peered into my face. “You’re one of his friends, aren’t you?”
Fear broke loose in my chest. I love Jesus with all my heart. I thought I could die for him. But in that moment, I faltered. All of the times he tried to prepare us for his death washed over me. Panic clutched my throat. I raised my head to see the Lord, but regarded him as a stranger. The steel of his courage slammed into my weak heart and I crumbled. “I have never seen him before.”
My Lord’s plumbless eyes swam with tears, but he never blinked. His eyes spoke compassion, knowing, anguish. I had failed. Miserably, my soul sank into Judas’ grave, who just that night had set in course the darkest hours of my life.
Judas hung himself. I wished I had the courage to do the same. I was an animal, not a man. I had scorned love. I had failed love. But I longed for hope.
I wanted to believe what Jesus had said, that he would rise from the grave, give me a second chance. But I knew in my heart that if he did rise, I was worthless to him.
Now here we were. Jesus: Alive, true to every promise, and me: Liar and failure. Jesus hadn’t yet said anything about that night. Suddenly, he scooted around the fire’s edge until we were side by side. My skin tingled with the warmth of his love; my soul cringed with self-loathing.
“Peter, do you love me?”
Was he really asking me this? Didn’t he know my heart? Why couldn’t he just banish me and let my bleeding heart implode? But he kept at it. “Peter, do you love me more than these? Peter, do you love me? Feed, tend my sheep.”
With those words of instruction, Jesus tilted my chin with his still mangled hand, like a tender father guiding a wayward son.
Those eyes, those plumbless eyes swam again with tears. How rarely have words failed me, but none can paint a shadow of what I saw in his eyes.
Finally, the sun rose high and our smoldering fire died. Jesus stood and extended his hand to me. I rose. I rose to restoration, to purpose, to His life, to love.
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