"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
Yes, Master, you know I love you."
The smell of snow is in the air today. For the first time since I was a baby, the Delaware Valley has a serious chance for a white Christmas.
I glance at yesterday’s open door and see the pile of armor and weapons left outside the cave. Yesterday’s advent was special. Today I open the little door and there is a scene that I was not expecting.
A man lies on the ground in front of the cave. He is unconscious and bleeding from his head. Mary and Joseph are trying to stop the bleeding and wake him up.
I hand Mary a scrap of cloth and ask what happened. “He was in such a hurry to come in and see Him, that he didn't bow low enough and he hit his head on the ledge. He is a very impulsive man and this isn't unusual for him." Joseph snickers and grins, "Mary is being kind right now..." Joseph laughs, "This man is pretty reckless and uncouth. I am surprised he has lived this long."
The man stirs and sits up slowly. He seems familiar but I haven't placed him yet. Joseph looks at me and before he opens his mouth, I tell him, No...let me try to figure it out first." Joseph laughs at this and says, "It will come to you quickly!"
The man is embarrassed by his accident and fumbling for words. I'm sorry. I was in a hurry...and he is here and I need to see Him. I didn't duck and...He is here! I need to see Him now!" The man's words are scatter-shot and almost nonsensical. Probably because he is in such a hurry and filled with such passion for this child. That passion marks his every move it seems.
He bows and enters the cave, almost ignoring Joseph and Mary. He crawls through the muddy straw on the floor with no regard for the stains it leaves in his clothing. His love for the child is genuine, that was for sure, he was crying before he even got near the manger. He doesn't ask anyone, he instantly reaches into the crib and lifts Jesus in his arms. Jesus isn't startled, but appears mildly annoyed with this impulsive man. Still...there is love abounding in the baby's eyes.
The man cradles the boy and smiles. “There you are...there you are my Lord!" he says, in a voice much louder than he realizes. This is not a man prone to whispering and it is a skill he hasn't quite mastered. The man begins telling the baby about things that are happening in his life. Churches he has helped to start, people he has introduced to the Savior, hardships he has endured. After a lengthy recitation of his deeds, the man grows quiet. Quiet and thoughtful.
It is a long silence after such a tremendous outpouring and it reminds me that within all of us there are caverns and sections of our heart which hold deep truth and amazing perspective. If I would judge this man on the first five minutes that I have seen here, I would have been sadly mistaken and missed the best part of his soul. The man is smiling now...and silent. His eyes fill with tears and he seems very happy.
"What times we had.., especially in those early days" he says to the baby, "That day I met you, and I was mending nets and my clothes smelled like bait! You were still so respectful of me and so kind..." With that I realize who he is. He is Peter. Peter the impulsive disciple. Peter continues, "That wedding feast...that was fun. That was before the spotlight was on you and we had a good time as friends enjoying each other’s company. The blind man...when you spit on the ground and put mud on his eyes..!" Peter bellows at this one, “Those Pharisees were so baffled! Mud! That was great!" I thought Peter's loud boisterous laughter would startle the baby, but he smiled and let out a little coo. I guess he was laughing along.
Peter grew sullen again...and sad. He looked Jesus in the eyes for a long and quiet few moments. “I still get embarrassed about jumping out of that boat, and for wanting to build the tabernacles for Elijah and Moses and You. Sometimes I should keep my mouth shut." Before those words have echoed off the cave walls, Peter clutches Jesus to his neck and whispers, "I am so sorry about that night...with those soldiers and that servant girl. I was scared, I was confused. They were hurting you and I couldn't make them stop and I got angry."
Peter is trying to avoid tears as he continues, "Before I knew it, I was denying You. It was like the words just shot out of me..." I am transfixed at this scene and don't realize
Joseph coming over to me. "Go to him," Joseph says, "What!" I ask, quite baffled, “I thought I couldn't interfere..." "This one is different, I think," Joseph answers.
I am mystified...approaching a disciple...a church father. I pause a long time and finally I hear Peter say, "Come here son, I want to see you". I am stunned. I love this man. I find so much of myself in him. He is reckless, impulsive, outgoing, boisterous, bold, brash, and intelligent. He is fearless and fearful at once. He has let his heart overrule his senses and the result has shot out of his mouth on many occasions. Yet he loved Jesus so fiercely that when the time came and he was to be crucified, he asked that they do it in a different fashion because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
He could have been my father.
I approach the patriarch of my faith with trepidation.
This is Peter. I kneel next to him and he pauses a long time.
Finally he speaks,
"See how loving He is?" Peter speaks to me, "That has never changed. I jumped out of a boat and then nearly drowned. I interrupted a miracle on the mountain top with my own desire to do something great for Him that wasn't necessary. I chopped off a young kid’s ear in a flight of rage. I betrayed Him in front of God and men on the night He needed my friendship the most." Peter pauses here and chokes back tears. "...and all He ever did was love me anyway and practically beg me to take care of his children for Him. ‘Feed my lambs' He said to me on the beach that day.
None of my failures or frailties mattered to Him. Just my love and my willingness.
That's what He wants from you too, son. You and I have the same personality. You love Him fiercely...you love everyone fiercely if you love them at all. That can get you into trouble sometimes but it can also be the most wonderful love there is. You can't give away love if you are holding some of it back. That includes your love for Him. You can't measure it out and you can't do it in any other way except that way He created you to. Love Him your way. Let Him love you! Be who He created you to be with no apologies! You are not obligated to perfection any more than anyone else is and nobody has the right to throw that yoke of bondage on you. My friends were a ragtag bunch, but they never threw my denial of Him in my face. They understood that he is shaping me every day of my life and today's story is not who I am...it's just who I am today.
With that, Peter handed Jesus to me and crawled out of the cave without looking back. Mary came over and took Jesus from my arms and placed Him in the manger. Joseph smiled and said, “Peter looked very happy as he left..."