This post starts with a good chunk of text from the bible and everything I have to say relates to that excerpt, so please do read it through. This takes place after Jesus’ death and resurrection. A handful of disciples had gone fishing together and Jesus appeared to them. They ate breakfast together by a body of water, just after sunrise.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
If you’ve read the New Testament before, you know that Peter is dramatic. Peter is energetic, exuberant, sometimes rash. Peter strikes readers as an all-or-nothing kind of guy. Keep in mind, it was Peter who asked for his whole body to be washed when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and it was Peter who cut off the servant’s ear when Jesus was arrested. It was also Peter who argued with Jesus before allowing him to wash his feet and it was also Peter who publicly denied Jesus in his presence after his arrest.
In this passage, we see a wide range of Peter’s personality.
Jesus is publicly putting trust in Peter, making sure that Peter will be faithful and renewing his command for Peter’s faithfulness. Peter expresses love for Jesus, commitment to his commands, and a desperate desire to be trusted. Then Jesus goes on to tell Peter that he will live and die for the sake of the Gospel. This foreshadowing is a grim reminder that what is good will not be easy and that Peter’s faithfulness will come at great cost. Despite all of that, Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me”. And Peter does.
Then, in the midst of this profound moment of reconciliation, commitment, and perhaps trepidation in regards to the future, Peter turns around and says “What about that guy?” (I’m obviously paraphrasing here).
“Peter,” Jesus replies (yes, I’m paraphrasing again), “mind your own business.”
Then, I would like to think, Jesus makes a joke. I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at Peter’s curiosity in a somber moment, then laughing a little, “Maybe I want to make that guy live forever, Peter, that’s none of your business. Can we just stay on topic for like five minutes?”
That hyperbolic comment, meant to put Peter in his place, is then turned into a half-serious rumor among the disciples. Jesus makes a joke and for years later, the disciples might have still been whispering to each other, “But what if he really doesn’t die?” I wonder if they placed bets.
The juxtaposition of Jesus’ vast love and serious warning to Peter next to that exaggerated, almost off-hand joke makes me wonder what it would have been like to be friends with God. I know I know, there are church songs about being a friend of God, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about hanging out with God, going to parties with God, joking around with God, having brunch with God on a beach and almost forgetting his divinity until he looks at you and tells you how you are going to die.
Even though Christians today don’t experience the presence of God in the same way the disciples did when Jesus was a person on Earth, we still experience strange tension between reverence and intimacy. God is described in the bible as a Father and a King. As a comforter and a fortress. As a helper and a mighty force. God is all-loving and all-powerful. He understands our smallest concerns and the paths of warring nations. How do we interact with a God who is both casual and omnipotent?
I’m still figuring it out. Much like Peter, I can often move from awe to petulance, from a grand view to a small, insignificant detail. Just as easily, I can swing from relaxed appreciation to solemn worship.
Those aspects of God, his bigness and his nearness, feel contradictory. Based on how we as people understand power and influence and care, these things should not be able to coexist. Yet here we are, and here is God. Caring and powerful and gentle and fearsome.
I suppose a good way to end this would be a prayer to be able to take God seriously, wholly and completely devoting our lives to him, while still being able to recognize and laugh at his jokes when he chooses to make them.