I always find it both amazing and amusing how in the American presidential election they will go through the history of each candidate with a fine-tooth comb in the hope of finding some small thing to discredit him or her. I simply mention the American one as it’s generally more publicised than most. It’s as if they are looking for the perfect person who is not allowed to have any defects. If they do find anything in their past such as smoking dope when they were a teenager, or something similar, they present this as a reason for him or her to be unsuitable for president now, as if you could find someone who didn’t have defects. Modern day media tends to do the same, gloating over the sins of an individual while showing absolutely no mercy whatsoever to that person for the mistakes they have made.
In contrast to that we have almost the opposite presented to us in today’s Gospel. Peter is confronted by Jesus in a loving but painful way, when Jesus asks him three times ‘Do you love me?’ Why did Jesus do this since he knew well that Peter loved him? Jesus was making Peter face his own weakness, the weakness that caused him to publicly swear that he never knew Jesus. This happened during Jesus’ trial when Peter tried to stay close to Jesus, but he was overcome with fear when individuals realised he was one of Jesus’ followers and then he denied ever knowing Jesus. After this happened it says that Peter went outside and wept bitterly, because of course he didn’t want to deny Jesus, but he was overcome by fear.
In asking Peter three times ‘Do you love me,’ Jesus was helping him to heal, but also making him face his weakness. Jesus wasn’t going to just pretend that this never happened, because if he did it would have continued to haunt Peter for the rest of his life. Instead, Jesus confronts Peter with it and makes him face it. And then Jesus makes this same Peter the first pope. Jesus was saying, ‘I know you let me down because of your own weakness/fear; but that is not an obstacle for me. Now face it and then I can really work through you.’ It is an extraordinary thought that Jesus wasn’t afraid to make Peter the first pope even when he knew that Peter had denied him. Our weakness is not an obstacle for God.
It is because the Lord loves us that he challenges us with our weaknesses. We want to just gloss over them and pretend that mistakes never happened, but that doesn’t really help us. If we are to heal and grow then we must face up to our weakness, which is difficult and painful but it’s also what helps us to grow.
In the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous the first step to recovery is to acknowledge your weakness and that you are powerless over it. Only then can you begin to continue in the right direction. This is also one of the reasons the Lord gives us the facility to confess what we have done in total secrecy, so that we can heal. The idea that all our sins are totally forgiven by God if we ask for forgiveness is a hard thing to grasp, and many of us struggle to believe that this could really be so. And yet that is what the death of Jesus on the cross is all about: the forgiveness of sins. That forgiveness has already been won for us; we just have to ask for it.
There is a lot more freedom in admitting that we are weak when we come before God, than in trying to prove we are perfect. If we had to be perfect it would put enormous pressure on us. Part of the freedom that our faith gives us is to realise that it’s ok to be weak, to have made mistakes. Ultimately we rely on the power of God and not on ourselves and that certainly is a relief.
Can you imagine if Jesus hadn’t challenged Peter in this way and then made him the first leader anyway? Peter would have continued to live in fear wondering whether his denials would come to light or not. Instead Jesus brings everything out into the open and basically says, ‘I know what happened, but now you have repented, so don’t be afraid anymore.’ This is why the Lord keeps inviting us to come back to him, to confess what we have done wrong, so that we can be free and so that we can live in peace. Everything God does is to help us.
‘Peter do you love me?’ ‘Lord you know everything, you know that I love you.’