Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 77: Love, part 2: Jesus’ Forgiving Peter
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 77: Love, part 2: Jesus’ Forgiving Peter

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Our faith teaches that we are all children of God, and there is no reason to regard our own needs as more important that those of anyone else. However, we are born as egocentric individuals who feel entitled to what we desire. We naturally desire what other people desire; in other words, our desires are mimetic. Because of mimetic desires, we find ourselves in conflict with rivals for scarce objects. However, if we loved our neighbor as ourselves, then we would desire for them as much as we desire for ourselves, and the rivalry would dissolve.

As an example of love in action, consider Jesus’ encounter with Peter after the Resurrection. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if Peter loved him, paralleling the three times that Peter had earlier denied Jesus. The first two times that Jesus queried Peter, Jesus used the Greek word agape, which describes total, emphatic, unconditional love. The first two times, Peter replied affirmatively, but in the Gospel According to John, Peter used the Greek term philio, which communicates a more constricted concept of brotherly love. The third time, Jesus used the term philio, indicating that he loved and forgave Peter so much that he was even willing to accept Peter’s understanding of what love is about.

Though Peter was exasperated by Jesus asking three times, this allowed Peter to undo his earlier denial of Jesus three times. Therefore, Jesus’ repeated query was an act of love and forgiveness. Once Peter had accepted Christ’s forgiveness, he was prepared to be transformed. He could acknowledge his past sins, because he knew that they were forgiven. Importantly, he could forgive those who sinned against him, because he recognized that he, too, had been a sinner. He was now equipped to be a true disciple of Jesus’ ministry of love, to follow Jesus’ instruction “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

Previously, he could believe that he was so devoted that he would never betray Jesus. He had denied that he would ever abandon Jesus (Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:31), yet he did just that in Jesus’ hour of need. Peter learned that, like all of us, he participated in the crucifixion of Christ, and we do likewise since Jesus said, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Peter was repentant, and therefore he was able to receive Christ’s forgiveness. Similarly, if we approach God with repentance, we may be able to receive God’s unconditional forgiveness.

Another aspect of this story* relevant to the Christian Vegetarian Association is that Jesus, referring to the fish, asked Peter, “do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15) When Peter affirmed his love, Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.” We may recall that Peter had been a fisherman before been called by Jesus to become a “fisher of men.” In John 21, Jesus once again asked Peter whether he preferred to catch fish or to be a disciple. In the larger context of this series, I think it is reasonable to consider that Jesus had called Peter away from the harmful and destructive activity of fishing toward a ministry that involved reconciliation of all God’s Creation. Though Jesus assisted in catching the fish, he needed fish to make his point.

Next week, we will look at John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

* I thank Frank Hoffman for this observation.

Go on to: Part 78: Love, part 3: For God So Loved the World
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