Why do you keep asking me?

I can’t deny it; I’m getting a little more forgetful as I get older. Part of the problem is that I can also be a bit distractable. I’ll think, I need to send so-and-so a message. I go the computer or pull out my phone and open my email. And of course, there are messages that have come in since the last time I checked. I read some, delete some, respond to some.

Then I close my email and go do something else (you know, like memory-building exercises).

Ten minutes later (if I’m lucky), a nagging thought pops into my head, Hey, wait, wasn’t I supposed to do something? What am I forgetting?  Then the light goes on: Oh, yeah, I remember now. 

And yes, I am perfectly capable of doing the same comedy routine all over again, opening my email and still forgetting the message that was the reason for opening it in the first place.

Oh, wait: did I mention that I’m getting a little more forgetful?

That’s why my wife and I have to leave ourselves notes to help us remember things. And she has to nag me more than she used to: “Did you remember to…?”

I get it. Really. But I want to see myself as someone who reliably remembers the things I need to, not as someone with a brain like Swiss cheese. To be asked if I remembered to do something, frankly, is annoying, and I might respond a little testily. “Yeeesss…” I say, drawing out the single syllable with a tone of voice that suggests eye-rolling, even if my eyes stay innocently in place. That might bring a second question: “Are you sure?”

The second question is doubly annoying. What’s the matter? I’m wondering to myself. Don’t you believe me?

Imagine, then, what it would be like to be asked the same question three times.

Like Jesus asked Peter.

Here’s the story:

When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17, CEB)

Breakfast on the beach is over; Jesus probably takes Peter for a private stroll along the shore. Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter says yes. But by the third time, the question begins to hurt. He is reminded of his three betrayals, the three acts of cowardice that followed on the heels of a rash, heroic declaration that he was ready to die with Jesus.

Out on the fishing boat, when Peter first realized that it was Jesus calling out from the shore, he hurriedly dove into the water. John doesn’t say, but I imagine that having waited impatiently for Jesus to return after his two earlier appearances, Peter swam straight to his Master out of a spontaneous and enthusiastic desire to be with him.

Did he anticipate the awkward conversation he found himself in now?

But Jesus knew, better than Peter did, what it would take to restore his number one disciple to the place where he could fulfill his God-given destiny. The conversation might be awkward, painful. But it is full of much needed grace. More on that in the next post.

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