“The Lord turned and looked at Peter…And (Peter) went out and wept bitterly” Luke 22:61-62
It was 1996. I was working for a high-flying startup company called Cisco Systems and absolutely loving life. I had recently taken the CCIE – Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert exam and not only did I pass it, I had the highest score of anyone – in the world! Yup, life was good and I was living large. So large in fact, that most others were not up to par with me. We had a sales convention and with the beers flowing freely I was only more than happy to teach my colleagues all that I had learned. I was even freer to put down those that were not there but that I felt just didn’t live up to my expectations, including a fellow engineer named Steven. Well, my arrogance caught up to me as I was walking outside in the warm California evening air when Steven came up along side me:
“I hear you did pretty well on the CCIE exam?” he said with a note of skepticism.
“Yup, sure did!” I exclaimed back to him.
“Yeah,” he responded, “Plenty of people heard you talking about. They also heard you talking about me.”
My mouth dropped to the ground and I stopped in my tracks. Not only was I busted, but here was a man who in the past had helped me out of some jams, yet just minutes before I had been saying what an idiot he was and how he needed to pick up his game. Our eyes locked and I knew that all the lying and rationalizing in the world was not going to change anything. I had betrayed Steven’s trust and good name and our professional relationship was over.
All four of the gospels have the story of Peter denying Jesus. They are all basically the same: Jesus is talking to his disciples, Peter proclaims his love and tells Jesus he will follow him anywhere, even to prison and death, then when Jesus is arrested Peter denies he knows him. But Luke’s account is unique. In Luke we see Peter by the fire saving himself by denying that he knows Jesus and after the third denial when the rooster crows, Peter’s eyes lock on Jesus.
Actually, that’s not quite right; I need to read it more carefully. It is the Lord who turned and looked at Peter. You see, even after being interrogated, spit upon and beaten, Jesus was still in control. His word to Peter had come true. Peter knew it intimately. Yet it was Jesus, using his eyes, who reached out to Peter. What were those eyes saying to Peter? How did Peter take the message?
When Steven confronted me I immediately felt shame and disgrace. I tried to come up with answers, but there were none. Steven was simply too hurt to take my excuses and just walked away.
But if we think about Jesus’ eyes making contact with Peter’s eyes, we have to ask why he did this, or at least why it is recorded in Scripture? From Peter’s perspective, it all came flooding in. He had told the Lord he loved him with a love that would never desert. It was a love that would go to prison and death. But at the time of facing prison, Peter could not go there, just as Jesus had predicted. So was Jesus reaching out to Peter saying, “See, I told you so!”? Was this some sort of punishment for Peter? Did Luke record this so we would know what happens when we deny Jesus and scare us into not doing it ourselves? If you saw the movie “The Passion of the Christ” you will recall they had this scene in the movie and that is exactly how Jesus was portrayed – gleaming, hard eyes condemning Peter for what he had just done.
If true, this would make our Lord out to be a taskmaster, the head of the school wielding a ruler ready to slap our knuckles. But we know that can’t be true. While Luke’s gospel leaves Peter weeping, the Gospel of John does not. The 21st chapter of John shows us the loving Jesus rebuilding the fire scene on a beach. John shows us that Jesus very tenderly takes Peter back down the same path he was on when he denied him. Jesus asks him three questions and receives three responses. But oh, what different questions and responses! I will write more on John 21 in a coming post. For today, know this. When I hurt Steven, he walked away from me, and I do not blame him. After you hurt Jesus and he looks you in the eye, he is not condemning you and he is not walking away from you. He is pointing out truth. His eyes turn to pleading eyes saying; “I am here. I am still in control. I know where you are and I don’t want you staying there. Come back to me and I promise, I am with you always.”