This morning, since it's good Friday, I read Luke 22:1-24:12. The story of my Beloved Jesus dying. I couldn't stop until he rose again. This day breaks my heart. It reminds me of how far beyond my comprehension the love of God is.
I was struck by the experience of Peter as I read. Pete is kind of a hot head. He was probably in more than one bar fight back in his Simon-The-Fisherman days. The kind of person who takes himself seriously--too seriously--but whose convictions are whatever serve him best at the moment. Who hides deep ravines of insecurity behind towers of ego.
He wore a gold chain around his neck, he always knew the best dirty joke. He was his mama's pride and joy but everyone else...well, it wasn't that he didn't know what they thought, that they measured him and saw someone who wasn't enough, it was that he couldn't fix it.
Then one morning, after fishing all night and coming up with nothing--knowing it would be another week of dodging the credit card guy and ignoring the pointed comments made by wife and mother--he pulls the boat to shore to begin cleaning the nets. But today there's a crowd of people listening to some dude talk.
At first Simon and the guys are talking back and forth, ignoring the crowd. After all, the crowd was in their space, not the other way around. But in a lull, the voice carries over on the wind. It's not unusually deep, not really unusual in any way, except....except that it's passionate. Whoever is teaching really cares about people getting it. He's telling stories even. Not quoting scripture, just talking. Teaching. Without meaning to, Simon and the guys slow as they listen. The crowd continues to grow, people walking and running to hear this Teacher. So many people crowd that it gets hard to even see him. If they weren't standing on the boat, they wouldn't be able to see a thing.
And then he looks over. For the first time, someone looks at Simon. Not at a fisherman. Not at a blowhard. At Simon. He sees all the stuff that has always been there, but never ever been known. When he climbs in the boat to teach, Simon and the guys quit even pretending to work. He's riveting. And when he's done, he tells them to cast their nets over the side.
The guys all look to Simon for some wisecrack. Something about the fact that they'd thought of that already. But it just doesn't feel right. Simon does make the point, but not to be funny, and tells the crew to do it.
Eyebrows raised, his guys lower their nets. For a second nothing happens. Then, with a creak and a groan, the lines pull taught. The nets are full. But not just full, so full that the lines are actually pulling the boat over. If their friends hadn't been close enough to help they'd have gone down. And when the drama of the catch is over, Simon meets those eyes again. Knowing but not condemning. Interested and not critical.
"Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Like so many other things, it just blurts out. But this one is true. So true it burns his eyes.
The teacher doesn't leave. No, he invites Simon along on a journey that would change the course of, well, everything. Even his name.
Three years later the swearing is less frequent, the blurting? Not so much. But Peter has a purpose beyond Friday night. He's on the team of the next King and he's all in. He has been known, called out, called down, lifted up, and loved for three years in a way he didn't know was possible.
And tonight he's losing it all. Jesus has been taken. Not only that, but before he left he said Peter would deny him three times. And then Peter went and fell asleep while he should have been praying. The night is not going well. He's terrified, but unwilling to let his Master out of sight. Jesus is his point of reference. The hinge on which all existence, all hope, all import rests.
Peter will be here for him. Maybe not in the middle of the crowd, but here, by the fire, close enough to the light that Jesus will see him and know he's not alone. And he'll pray, to make up for the prayer he should have offered earlier when he fell asleep.
A girl keeps staring at him. Peter ignores her, but she won't go away. Then she points. "This man was with him."
Peter turns and eyeballs the guy next to him, but it doesn't work. The whole circle stares at him. She's nodding. The eyes across the fire narrow, the circle shifts restlessly.
"Woman, I don't know him." He tries to be casual, stares at the fire.
People are coming and going and snippets of what is going on is told. Peter sits quietly keeping tabs on Jesus. A guy who saw the whole arrest go down joins the group, telling the story in high drama, and eyes him. "You also are one of them."
The crowd turns. There are more people now. Someone shoves him from behind. Murmuring begins.
"Man, I am not." Peter glares, then shoves back the goon behind and stares down a few suspicious people.
The story teller shrugs and goes on with his tale.
What is taking so long? Jesus hasn't done anything wrong, surely they've figure it out by now. But another hour passes and Peter settles in. Makes conversation with a few guys. One of them listens for a while, then sneers. "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."
"Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" It blurts out. Loud. And it's a lie. So ugly it burns his throat.
He turns to see where Jesus is and meets those eyes.
In that moment, their first meeting flashes back. Those are the eyes that see him, perceive who he is. Not who others see, not even who Peter himself claims to be, but who he really, truly
And even now, even after the worst night of his life, they look into him with love.
Peter couldn't take it. He fled, weeping. From guilt, yes I'm sure. From regret and sorrow over his own sinfulness, his own selfishness.
But also I think because in that moment he realized just how vast was the love of Jesus. In his ugliest moment, in the midst of denial, Jesus loved him. It is a love so big it can't help but break the heart it fills. It gushed through him, tore down the tower of ego as Peter saw his truest self. And then it flooded the chasm of insecurity. When he saw that love, all other things on earth ceased to matter.
This day breaks my heart. It reminds me of how far beyond my comprehension the love of God is. Thank you, Jesus for dying for me. That sentence is so inadequate. All words are. You bought my soul, you have won my heart, and I give you my life and all my love.