What stands out to me in this passage is love in the midst of tragedy. Peter’s love of Jesus makes him want to promise never to give up on Jesus, never to fail, and never to leave his side. Yet Jesus sees what Peter cannot. Jesus sees the power of the forces of oppression Jesus has chosen to stand against and knows it will seek to sift his friends like wheat. He knows, despite their love for him and their well-meaning words, that they lack the strength to stand against that pressure. So Jesus warns them of what is coming, including their rejection, to let them know of his love for them. Aware of what they will endure, Jesus lets them know his love for them does not waver nor will it ever. I believe Jesus does this in order to let them know that his love for him will remain strong no matter how far they fall. Jesus plants the seed for them which will blossom into their realizing reconciliation with him is possible when they encounter him through the experience of the resurrection. In my mind Jesus’ resurrection appearances are scenes not just of hope beyond death but also dramatic depictions of the disciples’ discovery that God’s love transcends death, running out to pursue their reconciliation with God relentlessly.
As I think on this story, I cannot but think of times I failed to live up to what Christ was leading me to do because my ability to remain strong against the world’s pressure to conform just simply wasn’t enough.
I remember in college having been friends with a fellow student who was horribly put down and harassed at my Christian college for being different. I never put him down, but I remember pulling away from him even when I felt “he needs support right now” deep in my soul out of being afraid of how others in school would view me. Deep in the pit of my soul, when I prayed, I felt I was going down the wrong path. I would make good intentions to not leave him in the lurch, but I still ended up doing so. Though our college was a “Christian” one, none of us were living up to the way of Christ in how we treated this young man. Though I can’t confess anyone else’s failings, I can confess my own sorrow and shame about letting the crowd influence me in the way it did.
I could list other points of shame where I know I did not live up to the high call of Christ-like love and I’m sure you could too from your own life. Because of these experiences I can relate out of those moments with the sorrow the disciples later share at abandoning Jesus. The feelings I felt in those moments help me relate with the haunting words of this old DC Talk song –
The reality is, though, that all of us shall fail. We all will have areas of our life in which we lack the strength of spirit and courage of our character to live with consistency. We like the disciples and the words of this DC Talk song, will face into the reality that we stumble, we fall, and we lose the path.
Jesus’ promise to the disciples before their stumbling of a love from him that will not give up even as they falter should remind us, too, that God’s love will not waver to us in our stumbling. It will remain firm.
One day early in my Christian walk, feeling certain I’d stumbled beyond rescue through a failing I now cannot understand how I thought would be beyond forgiving, I read the following words from 2 Timothy 2:13 – “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself”. In some mysterious way God has cast God’s lot with us, so that God will not give up on a one of us, even when we falter, fail, and are faithless. To do so is as if God were giving up on God’s self.
The way I have come to understand this is picturing Jesus’ Incarnation like a mother becoming pregnant. When Jesus entered this world, God cast God’s lot with all of humanity – taking on our flesh, blood, bone, limitations, feelings. In doing so God cast God’s lot with you and me. God wove together God’s future with our own so that God’s future is intertwined with our future, God’s life with our life. God cannot get to God’s future without us and us to ours without God.
It is like a woman who chooses to become pregnant, chooses to become a mother. Now a new life is in her body, and forever afterwards her life is intertwined with that life, her future with its future. “I will always be your mother,” my mom once told me and it is true. As any loving mother knows, once that life enters into your body, and especially once you hold that child in your hands, no longer can you imagine a future as it ought to be without also imaging a future for your child. Your life, your future, and this new life’s future are intertwined. You cast your lot with this child’s lot. You cannot abandon this child without in some sense abandoning a part of yourself.
Of course God’s casting God’s lot with us in Christ’s coming is even more unbreakable, for mothers do for various reasons, though it go against all that is natural in the mother-child bond, abandon their children either as little ones or when they disown them as adults for their choices. Though rare, it happens. But our God shall never disown a one of us, always keeping room for us like the Prodigal Child in Jesus’ parable to come back home again.
This gives me hope, and I hope it gives you hope. I will let myself down. I will fail myself and others. I will let God down. But God will never give up on me. God will never give up on you. God’s love has no limit.
The relentlessness of God’s love for us to me is beautifully pictured in the song “Mercy Came Running”. May its words remind you of the relentless love of God that will not let you, me, or a one of us go.
And I’m sure not whistling Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,