What did he do in those days right after the Resurrection? What coursed through his thoughts?
How many times did he beat himself up for the denials? How often did he play that fiery courtyard scene over and over in his head trying to find some way to understand what he did and did not do? In those immediate days after the Resurrection did he see the face of Jesus on the inside of his eyelids? Did he replay Jesus’ voice? How close did despair come in overtaking Peter? To drowning him? Weighing him down? Smothering him?
I can hear the dialogue in Peter’s mind. Can you?
Those days after the crucifixion and even after the resurrection must have been dark days for Peter. He pulled his nets out of storage and worked the tangles out of them until his fingers were raw and the cuts stung from the residual salt. His thought patterns must have resembled the knots. Tangled with remorse, disgust, fear and anxiety. Humiliation and paranoia choked him, and he just couldn’t swallow it down. Disgust mounted and overflowed.
Pressure had squeezed him. Excuses and justifications rose in his mind, but he punched them down. Deflated them. There were no excuses. For three years Peter had been with Jesus. Had he learned nothing? As he untangled the knots he remembered walking on water—and sinking. He remembered the Transfiguration—and making a fool of himself. He remembered pulling Jesus aside—and chastising him. He remembered pulling his feet from Jesus’ hands—and protesting. He remembered the heft and weight of the sword—and cutting through Malchus’ ear in the garden. He remembered the vehement denials—and the rooster crowing and crowing and crowing.
Peter’s situation seemed as hopeless as the net in his hands. He could not find the beginning or the end of this mess.
One blunder—doubling. One mistake—multiplying. One sin—avalanching.
Tortured, Peter dropped head into his hands. His great, bulky body curled inward. He longed to disappear. To be invisible. To be swallowed whole.
Jesus had called him a rock. Seems like this was the only time the Lord had been wrong. Peter had not held up under the pressure. This rock had cracked. This rock split wide open when the weight fell.
And Peter could not bridge the enormous fissure inside his soul.
I have been with Peter. I have shared that ugly space with him. Inside my mind I have curled up in a fetal position and wondered if my mistakes could ever be fixed. Often I have worried that I would not survive the consequences or more importantly that others would not survive them.
There have been times and seasons when I have believed my mistakes and sins created fissures too wide to ever bridge and too deep to ever fill. Some of these happened before I became a Christ-follower, but many happened after. Many have happened in the past few years. Too many have happened in the past week.
Have you been there?
I wonder though…
I wonder if the Spirit interrupted the patterns in Peter’s thinking. Did the Spirit remind Peter of another conversation with Jesus?
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times seven…”*
Jesus knew Peter. He knew his tendencies. His inclinations. His weaknesses.
Jesus knew the anguish writhing in Peter’s soul.
After the Resurrection Mary, Johanna and Susannah received specific directions from Jesus: go tell the others and Peter.**
How those words must have filtered into Peter and infused him with hope.
Peter didn’t expect the answer of seventy-seven times seven to his question of Jesus. And he didn’t realize they would be offered to him. Jesus did not ask of Peter or us something he would not be willing and ready to do himself.
Friends, Jesus knows us. He knows our tendencies. Our inclinations. Our weaknesses.
And it is time to uncurl. Time to stop beating ourselves to death. Time to stop despairing that our sins cannot be covered or erased. Time to stop living in fear that we (or others) will not survive the consequences. Time to stop acting as if there is something God can’t do.
It is time to hear Jesus say,
Fill in your name.
And say it seventy-seven times seven.
*Matthew 18: 21-22