My Big Mouth; My Bigger Error

Engraving by Gustave Dore (1832 – 1883) illustration was published in 1875 - Peter's Denial

Every Thursday we’ll post something to do with relational or emotional concerns. Hope it helps.

My Big Mouth; My Bigger Error

When Jesus predicted that all his disciples – Peter included – would forsake Him under pressure, you can almost hear the injury in his voice when he protests:

“Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble! — Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:33, 35)

This was a guy who knew Christ, but still had a lot to learn about himself. I think he meant what he said. and was offended and hurt that his Master thought so little of him as to suggest he’d let Him down in such a cowardly way.

Jesus saw what was coming, and gently warned Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Bear with me while I paraphrase three things Jesus tries to convey to Peter here:

“First, Satan heard that. He’ll throw your promise back in your face after you fail to keep it, and you’ll enter the darkest period of your life.

“Second, when it all comes down in a few hours, try to remember this – I’m still on your side. I’ve prayed for you. Soon even you won’t be on your side, but I will. You say you love Me too much to deny me? Peter, I love you too much to deny you, and I won’t, not now, not ever.

“And finally, when it’s all over, use it! When you’ve failed spectacularly and repented bitterly, don’t bury this experience. Use it to strengthen others.”

Did Peter get it? I don’t think so, at least not yet. But I can easily envision him hashing it out after the crucifixion, when all the disciples had gone into hiding. Lonely, embittered, frightened and unspeakably disappointed, he turns on himself for the thousandth time:

“Fool! Why didn’t I see it coming? He warned me, and I thought this time He really had it wrong. He seemed so moody anyway, I couldn’t make out half of what He was saying. Then they came, and I panicked. They took Him, and I didn’t mean to follow so far behind. But it was dark, I was scared, and I’d never seen so much hatred. Still, I thought I could handle it when I sat down with them, and then they asked me if I knew Him, and —- God help me, God forgive me, I am not the man I thought I was.”

So, alone and humiliated, he hides.

If this was fiction, I’d say this is the place to end it. It’s the story of a very sad man who hoped too hard, tried, and failed. The End.

But, of course, this is neither fiction nor the end. The reconciliation between Jesus and His disciples was still to come, with the explanation of the big picture, the new vision. And finally, at the end of John’s gospel, a brief dialogue between Peter and his Lord that is both his final breaking, and his making:

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15)

We lose something here in our modern translation. When Jesus said, “Do you love me?”, He asked in Greek, “Do you agape me?” (As in, ‘Do you love me with divine, perfect love?’)

Peter’s in a terrible position. The answer should be, ‘Of course I agape You! I love You with nothing less than God’s perfect love!’

That’s what it should be, but it isn’t. And Peter now knows better than to make promises to Jesus he can’t keep.

Sadly, I’ll bet even timidly, he replies:

“I phileo you.”

Phileo – brotherly affection; human affection. In other words:

“In response to Your question, no. I do not agape You. I should say I do, but I’ve shot my mouth off before and I won’t do it again. I’m an imperfect man who loves You imperfectly, so I phileo you – I care, but hard experience has proven I don’t care nearly as much as I should.”

Jesus repeats the question again; again, Peter gives an honest, though far from ideal, response.

Then Jesus repeats the question, but replaces one word:

“Simon, do you phileo me?”

You can almost hear His tone:

“Simon, is this the best you offer me? Phileo? After all I’ve done for you, you offer me this? Phileo instead of agape?”

My uncle Joe served with troops that liberated a number of Europe’s concentration camps during World War II. At Birkenau, he recalled, as prisoners streamed out of the barbed wire compound, many of them were downright worshipful of the soldiers, seeing them as saviors. A Polish man approached Joe in that manner, speaking a language he couldn’t understand, trying to convey indescribable gratitude.

Joe shook his head and shrugged; they couldn’t communicate.

The man finally went silent, then ripped a button off his threadbare shirt and pressed it into my uncle’s hand.

He didn’t need that button. And he cherished that button. It was given out of complete wretchedness; the faltering gift of a man trying to express feelings beyond words. It was nothing, and it was priceless.

Peter, now grieved, according to John’s gospel, offered his button:

“Lord, you know all things. I phileo you.”

The faltering gift of a man trying to express feelings beyond words.

“It’s all I have”, he seems to say. “ It’s nothing; You don’t need it. Refuse it and I’ll understand. But if there’s still anything in You that can see anything in me that You could want, then it would mean everything to me – Everything! – if you’d accept this button.”

I know why you relate. The same reason I do. What else have we ever offered Him, really, if not a measly button?

And Jesus overwhelms His servant with a confirmation:

“When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” (John 21:18)

He was speaking, we know, of the way Peter would die. But was He not also describing the way Peter would, from now on, live? No longer his own; no longer the self-willed fisherman who girds himself and goes where he pleases. He’s tried, failed, been humiliated and broken, then forgiven and blessedly, amazingly restored.

And weeks later, on the Day of Pentecost, he’ll preach the sermon launching the history of the Early Church.

“My big mouth,” Peter could easily have said, “and my bigger error. And, wonder of wonders, my even bigger God.”


DebbieLynne | May 25, 2012

What a gripping post! And to think that the Lord cherishes our measly buttons...WOW!

Charliehdz | May 25, 2012

What a wonderful confirmation from God that me and my big mouth shall serve Him, this time with renewed vocabulary and attitude!

randall slack | May 25, 2012

Your describing me...

Joe dallas | Jun 1, 2012

You and so many others, Randy. Including me, of course. Take good care.

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