Today’s Gospel account is fascinating by human standards. After what had happened after the Last Supper when Peter denied Jesus three times, one would have expected Jesus to write Peter off. Sorry Peter – you failed the test!
Our God is a God of surprises! Jesus didn’t even bring up what had happened. After breakfast he simply turned to Peter and said, “Peter, do you love me more than the others?” Peter, fully aware of his failure on the night before Jesus died, humbly responded, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”
Jesus knew that deep within there was a better side to Peter. As always, Jesus drew on his inner goodness so as to invite him to grow into the person God had created him to be.
Jesus kept no record of Peter’s failures. However, he did ask him to do something for him; feed my lambs, feed my sheep, that is, to love his sisters and brothers in the same way that Christ loves. And what kind of love was Jesus asking of Peter? An unconditional, sacrificial love. A love in imitation of the Shepherd who was willing to die rather than stop loving. As Peter would later write, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8).
I’m sure that Peter never forgot how he failed Jesus and denied him three times. Yet I doubt that Peter let his sin haunt him as some people do. He learned a great and valuable lesson from his weakness. Peter learned that he was not as courageous as he thought he was. It is far better to learn a lesson than to be taught a lesson. When we learn from our failures, our weaknesses, the recalling of it is more like to evoke gratitude within us rather than self-recrimination.
Peter also learned a wonderful truth about Jesus. In spite of Peter’s denials, Jesus still loved him and it was that love that infused new life into Peter. It’s a powerful experience to be loved in one’s weakness and sinfulness. That is what grace is all about.
Peter was a changed person and we see that in our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. He had the courage to stand up before the Sanhedrin and witness to the Lord Jesus. Peter is a source of consolation for us. At times we fail to have the courage to witness to Jesus because of our human weakness. However, we must learn to forgive ourselves and others for momentary lapses. We must not judge ourselves or others but rely fully on God’s grace, for it is by grace and grace alone that we can be faithful to Christ and the Gospel.
— Father Dennis, May 5, 2019