John 21:1-25 (spring AD 30: during the 40 days after resurrection)
Peter denied – three times – that he was a friend of Jesus. The third time he was asked, Peter got agitated and swore angrily.
Jesus asked Peter – three times – whether Peter loved him. The third time he was asked, Peter got agitated and…humbly insistent.
It is believed (though the Bible doesn’t tell us) that Peter was killed by being crucified in the late 60’s AD – probably within a couple of years of Paul’s beheading. It’s tough to imagine the Peter we read about here going to a hideous death rather than deny Jesus. Even after the resurrection, he was overly concerned with other peoples’ lives and so lacking in self-awareness that he felt hurt when Jesus pressed him on whether he loved Jesus. But God was still working in Peter.
Jesus didn’t see in Peter a diamond-in-the-rough. He didn’t know that Peter had great things ‘in him’ as we might say (e.g. “He’s got it in him to be a great missionary”). Peter did not have bravery and great loyalty ‘in him’; God put it there. Peter’s primary interest when he found out he would be persecuted wasn’t Jesus, but rather, was John going to suffer as much as him?
Peter did though have a demonstrative love for Jesus. As much as self-absorption and doubt kept rearing their ugly heads, he loved his saviour. It was Peter alone who, rather than row back to the shore with the fish, abandoned it and jumped in the water to swim-walk the hundred yards to Jesus.
I have a dog that does that for me, and two cats that don’t. When I walk through the door, our mutt wags her tail so violently I’m afraid she’ll pull a muscle. If you have children you may remember the time in their life when they were so pleased to see you they’d run to you.
We need the love that Peter already had by this point and the love that was still developing. We should talk to, read about, talk about and think on God often enough that our love grows to the point of naturally bubbling over as Peter’s for Jesus. And we need to love what he loves, and hate what he hates, more and more so that our faith is strong enough to accept suffering for him, without thinking of ourselves first of all.