The Proper End
At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)
This is the end of this story. No really, I checked. This is the last time Matthew mentions Peter. Peter denies Christ. He hears the cock crowing and he weeps. And that is the end of Peter’s story, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
As I was studying this passage in the lectionary this week, I immediately looked for proper end, the end where everything is okay. Peter denies Christ, but then Jesus forgives him after the resurrection. That is the way it is supposed to go. That is the way I want it to go. But this is the way it goes in the Gospel of John and only in the Gospel of John.
John writes that after the resurrection, Jesus is finishing up breakfast and he says to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He asks him three times. What a lovely poetic scene! Peter denied Jesus three times, and Jesus gives him three opportunities to make it right and profess his love to Jesus. This is how I want the story to end. Make it right.
I need to sit down and have coffee with Matthew and explain to him that we can’t have it the other way. People need to be able to make things right. People need second chances. People need to return to the scene of the crime and confess. This is how we do things.
Matthew needs to understand that Peter’s story is important to us regular folk. We deny Jesus and we need to know how to fix it. He needs to show us the way home when we fail under pressure.
Sometimes when my kids really blow it, I don’t feel like making room for reconciliation or repair. I feel like ignoring them for an hour. Sometimes when people irritate me, I don’t want to hear reasons or excuses or show empathy. I want to shake my head and move on. But the beautiful thing about the John ending is that Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus does not exclude Peter from his circle. He has breakfast. He gives him the chance to fully reconcile. Peter doesn’t fix it. Jesus does. Jesus opens up the dialogue, inviting Peter into this intimate line of questioning, eventually showing us that Peter is completely welcome to continue following Jesus:
After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:19b)
Matthew may not have needed this redemption, but I do.