Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” John 21
It is one of life’s hardest things to do, forgiving others when they have disappointed and hurt us. But accepting forgiveness from others and forgiving ourselves when we have hurt and disappointed others is quite often even more difficult.
It occurred to me this year, as we read the Easter readings, that Peter and Judas have a lot to teach us in this regard.
Both Judas and Peter denied Jesus. Judas was a traitor, turning Jesus over to those who killed him. Peter failed to stand by Jesus, pretending that he had never even known him. Both later regretted their sins, but with one big difference.
Judas could not forgive himself and committed suicide. I am convinced that Jesus would have forgiven Judas if he had come forward, but Judas never gave Jesus the chance and went down in history as a villain. Peter, on the other hand, stepped forward and accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, and thereby came to forgive himself, going down in history as a saint.
My friends, have you ever done some awful, hurtful thing to someone you love? Many people have and are spending their lives in regret, unable to forgive themselves. Maybe they have done it to their parents, their siblings or their children, maybe to a spouse or a close friend, maybe to a coworker or neighbor.
Many have done stupid things to hurt themselves. Maybe they have had an abortion because of irresponsible sex, maybe they have lost their life savings in compulsive gambling, maybe they have destroyed their marriage because of infidelity or ruined their health through addiction or maybe they have killed someone while driving intoxicated or with a gun in a rage or even by accident.
Burdened with their inability to forgive themselves, their lives are often stuck in a cycle of destructive self-hatred. Some kill themselves, little by little, with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, to relieve the pain of regret, they are driven to take a gun and end their lives or, like Judas, hang themselves in their garage.
Peter reminds us that there is another way: we can forgive ourselves by accepting God’s forgiveness. With God’s forgiveness, we can go on and make a new start.
My friends, we have all failed as disciples, but the important thing is that we recover like Peter, rather than follow Judas, who could neither forgive himself nor accept God’s forgiveness. Even though Peter denied Jesus three times, before witnesses and after pledging never to do such a thing, he meets Jesus on the beach after the Resurrection and affirms three times that he did indeed love Jesus.
After that, Peter the Coward soon became Peter the Brave, Peter the Denier became Peter the Public Witness! Traditionally, in a typical Peter way, we are told that he requested to be crucified upside down.
Father J. Ronald Knott