“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.