When Coincidence Isn’t Coincidental

“Coincidences are spiritual puns.” G.K. Chesterton

If you’ve read the Gospel of John, you’ve read that Peter denied knowing Jesus just when Jesus needed a friend most. He denied him once, twice and then a third time.

John also records a later conversation between Jesus and Peter, one where Jesus asks Peter to affirm his love. He asks once, twice and then a third time.

Neat little coincidence, isn’t it, three denials and three expressions of love? But they have more in common than that. Let’s look closely at the first scene, the three denials:

Simon Peter and another disciple [John] were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.

He replied, “I am not.” It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.

Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”

He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. (John 18:15-18, 25-27.)

Jesus died that Friday, and Peter had to live with the fact that he had denied his best friend repeatedly.

But the good news, of course, is that Jesus rose from the grave on Sunday. He sought Peter out early one morning after Peter and his crew had been out fishing all night.

Jesus waited on shore by a fire and called everyone over. He took Peter aside and asked him three times: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? as John followed at a distance. Peter answered yes each time.

Three questions, one for each denial. Peter must have seen the parallel with the night he betrayed Jesus. But the three-fold repetition might not have been the only thing reminding Peter of that night. The parallels continued:

  • Peter got into the High Priest’s courtyard that night because John knew one of the servants. Later, John followed Peter and Jesus on the beach as Jesus asked Peter the three questions.
  • Peter stayed warm by a fire in the High Priest’s courtyard. Jesus, who is our Great High Priest, prepared a fire for Peter and the others to warm themselves after a night fishing on the lake.
  • Peter’s denials came to an end only when the rooster crowed to greet the dawn. Jesus reached out to his friend Peter in the early dawn hours.

I can’t help but think that there is more going on here than mere coincidence in all these parallel circumstances.

Perhaps Chesterton’s right. Those circumstances – those  coincidences – do look a bit punny. Jesus might have been making a little joke.

What does this reveal about God, then? That he loves his people even when they let him down.

He also seems to like a good joke now and then.


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12 Responses to When Coincidence Isn’t Coincidental

  1. Erica M. says:

    There’s an even deeper level to it. In the original language, Jesus kept asking if Peter loved Him “unconditionally”. Peter kept answering “Yes Lord, I love you as a friend”. I see this as a kind of progression for Peter-he goes from being the man who denies Christ, to the man who proclaims Christ as his friend, to the man who willingly sacrifices everything, including his life, for Christ. More 3s!

    • Tim says:

      Good insight, Erica. I like too how in the original Greek while Jesus is shown to ask twice if Peter had agape for Jesus and Peter responded with phileo, Jesus the third time asked if Peter had phileo for Jesus and peter answered once again with phileo. God was willing to work with peter where he was. Grace is all over the place in this passage.

  2. Jeannie says:

    “Spiritual puns” — that’s a really neat concept and so very Chestertonesque … Chestertonian … (I know, right?)

    • Tim says:

      As long as it’s not a Chesterfield, because even this neighbor from the south knows that would be a couch.

      • Jeannie says:

        Ha, when you said that I thought, “Hm, are we really so known for using that word?” Apparently yes, though it’s declining… http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~chambers/couch.html
        Lots of chesterfield potatoes up here in Canada, I guess!

        • Tim says:

          That link is great, Jeannie. I remember some relatives calling a couch a Davenport as a very young child, and some even shortened it to Daveno. It would be interesting to see if Chesterfield is holding on more strongly in some regions of Canada other than the Golden Horseshoe. The States can get very dialectical by region.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    I am comforted that God is concerned with every detail. Jesus tells Peter some of the details of how he will deny him, and Jesus pursues him afterward with these detailed similarities. His love is perfect.

    • Tim says:

      If there’s one thing Peter should have learned fro all this, it’s that Jesus is intimately familiar with all Peter’s ways and loves him completely.

  4. Mary Anne says:

    What always makes me sad about this incident that is the Lord would have forgiven Judas, too, if he’d come and asked. There’s a poem by James Wright called “Saint Judas” and it always makes me think of how things could have been:

    When I went out to kill myself, I caught
    A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
    Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
    My name, my number, how my day began,
    How soldiers milled around the garden stone
    And sang amusing songs; how all that day
    Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
    Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

    Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
    Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
    Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
    Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
    The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
    I held the man for nothing in my arms.

    SO sad. But Peter really gives me hope–he messes up but keeps coming back . . .

    • Tim says:

      I was just reading the passage in Matthew 27 last night about Judas returning the coins to the priests. The NIV records it as remorse, and the Greek word there is different from the one translated as repentance elsewhere. It’s metamelētheis in Matthew 27:3, while “repent” in Matthew 3:2 (“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”) is a translation of the word metanoeó. The import of the word choice is that Judas did not repent; he just felt horrible about it. If he had repented, I think that scene might have ended quite differently.

      • Mary Anne says:

        Heh. Puts me in mind of Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara: “You are in the exact position of a thief who’s been caught red handed and isn’t sorry he stole but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail.” 😉

  5. Pingback: Wanderings of the Week 12/8/13 | My Life on the Balance Beam

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