When Jesus restores Peter after his denial he does so not by questioning Peter’s knowledge, but Peter’s heart.
From Winn Collier:
Warming by the enemy’s ﬁre, three critics posed Peter the most straightforward query: “Are you a follower of Jesus?” They did not ask what Peter thought of the Galilean’s theology. They did not quiz him on the political positions of the carpenter turned prophet. They did not interrogate Peter on whether he believed Jesus’ claim to be Messiah was a farce. Peter faced a more basic, less theoretical, inquiry. “Are you a follower?” Peter, doubting all he had experienced with Jesus, offered what might have been the most honest response available to him. “No.” Peter’s betrayal was born of disillusion. The gloomy garden and the Judas kiss and Jesus’ deafening silence in the face of it all were simply too much for Peter. And three times, all before the cock ﬁnished its crowing, Peter’s confusion took shape in the form of a harsh, disillusioned No He had no space for this sort of king, no category for this twist in the story. Peter’s heart was good, but as with most of us his “clenched hands [were] stuffed with his own devices. When what we expect will be is smothered by what actually is, doubts and clenched ﬁsts are our common response.
Peter’s betrayal was odious. Though redemption came for Peter in the same way it is offered to us all, he will forever be remembered as the one who denied Jesus. This is a sad and unfortunate tale; yet if my read on Peter’s place in the night before Good Friday is reasonable, I detect a sliver of respectability in Peter’s disloyal hours: Peter was honest. Peter was angry. Perplexed and disappointed by Jesus’ anarchic actions, Peter had more questions than faith. When asked if his loyalty lay with Jesus, he would not lie. Honesty of any sort, even the treasonous kind, is better than deception. The one barrier to redemption is refusing to own up to the darkness that led us to our humble place. Such refusal will keep us from falling at the feet of grace, which is precisely where Peter finds himself several days following following his threefold denial.
When Jesus appeared to Peter after the Resurrection, he didn’t address Peter’s treachery. Jesus had obviously not been surprised by the denial; in fact he warned of its corming. Jesus did not offer Peter a theological treatise on doubt and faith. He did not chide Peter for his seditious acts. Jesus chose a more subversive path. Rather thai answer Peter’s many questions, Jesus proffered his own. Do you love me? It’s the sort of question that cuts to the center of things. It bypasses should and why and how could you. It digs deep for the rawest place. It is the sort of question that swallows you who] With Jesus, the question takes shape; it becomes ﬂesh and bones.
It is this ﬂesh-and-bone rawness, this rich humanity of Jesus, that meddles with our callous, constricted hearts. Jesus does not ask a question — of Peter or of us — merely as a mechanical apparatus to make a point. It is not just a rhetorical device, Jesus with his sterile bag of tools. Sometimes Jesus asks a question because he would really like to know the answer: Do we love him? It is a mystery how both true Divine knowledge and true human inquiry mingle in one man, one God. But they do. The ancient catechism insists as much. There is nothing more human, more honest, more open to friendship than a good soul-opening question. It cuts to the center, past the hubris. It carries love with it as it queries into our depth. And the question lingers until we answer.
Winn Collier, Holy Curiosity, Baker Books, 2008.