It was a typical Spring morning as Peter sat feeling trapped beside a dying morning fire. A slight shiver came over him occasionally as his robe was still damp and the wind was cool.
He would’ve normally stoked the fire for warmth but he was held in a sort of paralysis with Jesus quietly finishing his breakfast.
His fellow disciples had left the fireside to tend to their nets and the large, miraculous catch they had hauled in after following the advice of Jesus.
Peter’s state of mind was not due to the morning’s wonder wrought by Jesus. Instead Peter feared the awkward conversation he felt Jesus would certainly initiate.
But Jesus ate and cleaned up after the others with such nonchalance that Peter wanted to throttle him.
Our Lord placed a few crumbs from the breakfast in the fire and it began to smolder, quenching a flame that was struggling back to life.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice,”
Peter almost chuckled beneath his breath as he recalled the prophecy of Isaiah. As Jesus reached for a small piece of wood and placed it on the fire, Peter questioned his faith in such words.
Once they would have ignited his passions for living but this morning they left him cold and unsure.
“Simon,” Jesus’ voice shattered the silence. “Simon, son of of John, do you love me?”
Peter’s heart sank, his belly ached, his eyes filled with tears. Here was the moment that he had been dreading. Just days ago he had pledged his loyalty to Jesus even unto death. But within hours of those words he was aghast to find himself denying that he had even met the man he followed as the Messiah.
He couldn’t focus on any single emotion long enough to react. Anger, doubt, fear, sorrow all filled his soul violently. His shame and self-reproach felt like a physical force pressing upon him so forcefully that he was stunned to hear himself speak, “Lord, I am your friend.”
Jesus asked for love. It was so like him. He was always asking for everything, no room for escape. It was all or nothing with him.
But Peter could no longer trust himself to give anything to anyone. Jesus asked for love, Peter could only give his affection, and he was unsure that had any worth to it at all.
He watched as Jesus seemed to ponder his response while he poked at the fire, the new wood just beginning to catch.
Strangely, Peter took courage from this. It was oddly refreshing to feel like he had owned up to his weakness.
“Hmm.” Jesus grunted and then he looked back at Peter. After a few moments he spoke again: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
What a strange mixture of emotions Jesus could awaken in Peter. Just a moment ago a torrent of feelings overwhelmed him, now it was simply a duet of frustration and self-pity.
Why must he endure this examination? How could he be expected to answer correctly after his failure?
Unsure of how to respond, he decided to speak the same words as before, “Lord, I am your friend.”
Jesus raised a single eyebrow as if this were some battle of wits Peter knew he would lose.
As a breeze picked up, sending a new shiver over Peter, Jesus looked off toward the shore. Peter followed his gaze and they both watched the others so blissfully oblivious.
Jesus chuckled. Peter smirked. He felt this was his chance to make a move to join them.
But Jesus grabbed his arm and stopped him. He spoke again, “Simon, son of John….”
Peter’s closed his eyes and he sighed. “This man…,” he thought, “this man!”
“Simon, son of John, are you my friend?”
The log in the fired popped, sending sparks flying, Peter watched as one landed on his robe and burned a hole into it. The smoke curled from his sleeve like incense offered at prayer. As he watched it rise, a strange realization overtook him.
He was who he was and he could be no more. Maybe Jesus had known that all along. Maybe Peter hadn’t.
Jesus was asking for his commitment and this time Peter would give him what he could, nothing more and nothing less. He could not bear a cross he was not ready to lift.
As the ember lost its glow, as the smoke ceased curling from his sleeve, Peter lifted his eyes and this time it was his gaze that pierced Jesus.
“Lord, you know everything, you know I…am…your…friend.”
Jesus stared at him, taking it all in. Finally, though, it was Peter who looked away.
“You know,” Jesus said almost flippantly, “when you were young you went anywhere you wanted to go.”
Peter looked back at Jesus with a mixture of curiosity and annoyance.
“But when you grow older you’ll be bound and taken away to a place you don’t want to go, a place you would never believe you would go.”
Again, the two men sat in a silent stare. It is surprising how much can be exchanged in such looks.
Was it that his eyes softened? Was it the gentle smile that faintly arose from Jesus’ lips? Was it the slightest bemused sigh that passed from his nostrils?
It is hard to say how such moments express so much but Peter knew that Jesus would never leave him alone. Peter also knew that he would never leave Jesus.
As gentle breeze blew off the lake, a flame leapt off the log and Peter felt a wave of warmth wash over him. Jesus stood up and helped Peter to his feet and began walking to the shore.
Peter hesitated slightly and Jesus spoke over his shoulder, “Follow me.”
As he turned his head back toward the shore and toward the others, Peter was sure he heard him add, “Friend.”
©2019, Tom Thoeni