Isaiah, like SS, Peter and Paul, knows he is not worthy. “Who, me Lord?” Paul is the “least” of the Apostles, while Peter is sceptical of Jesus’ advice to go back out and cast his nets in the deep. He knew himself to be a “sinful man.” And of course he was right.
Despite Jesus’ trust in him, when he was most needed in Gethsemane he was asleep, and later he lied about even knowing Jesus. In a conscious echo of that first calling, Jesus once more advises Peter about his fishing, and it is that which makes him realise to whom he is speaking. Thrice the Lord asks Peter if he loves him, and thrice Peter affirms it; ransomed, healed, restored forgiven, the Apostle is charged with the care of the sheep. He no longer protests he is not worthy. Why is that?
It is certainly not because Peter feels any more worthy than he had had the beginning; indeed if anything Peter knew he had not lived up to the promises he had made. The contrast here with Judas Iscariot is worth noting.
Peter and Judas both betrayed Christ. Judas despaired of the evil deed he had done and, in despair, hanged himself. He could not forgive himself and he did not believe that forgiveness could be had. His pride told him that there was no remedy for his sin; so he destroyed himself, throwing back to God the gift he had been given. He had not been there when Jesus had prayed to the Father for forgiveness for those who “knew not what they do.” Not had Peter. But there was a critical difference.
Peter, like Isaiah and Paul, had the humility not to let his own pride come between him and forgiveness. We have all sinned, not one of us has reached perfection. How easy it is to hide and evade, and even lie, when we have gone wrong and done bad things and then, when we are found out, to despair. It is as though by going to the very depth of despair we make some sort of amend. But that is to judge as men do, and as with Judas, it can be to put a barrier up to the actions of God’s grace.
There is one odd thing about love; you cannot ever deserve it. Even at the secular, physical level, one cannot make the object of one’s love, love you. One can hope that by paying attention to the beloved, one might receive favourable notice, but one cannot compel or deserve love. Love, like God’s grace, is uncovenanted. God’s love is freely available to us; we did not love Him first, He loved us from the beginning.
Christ came to show us what love will do. He died for us, though we are sinners. A man might die for his family or his friends, or even for a cause. But few if any of us die for our enemies, let along for those whom we do not know. Christ did that because He is God, and we see in His atoning sacrifice a glimpse of the Glory of God; for me He did that?
Peter faced the music, so did Isaiah. Sometimes when we have gone wrong, it is easier ti run away, to take the blames, to become the sacrificial lamb. How much harder it is to face the music and to carry on living.
We are not told what Peter did after the crucifixion, just that he ended up back where he had begun, working the family fishing boats, a sadder if not a wiser man. Perhaps he reflected that it would have been better for all if Jesus had listened to him when he had said he was a sinful man? But, of course, Jesus had listened. He who, alone, knows the devices and desires of our own hearts, knew that Peter had the ability to grow spiritually, if only he would learn humility. Well, that he did.
Peter remained, like us, deeply flawed. He thought that it would be fine to eat non-kosher with Gentiles and did not see why the Jewish dietary laws should apply to all followers of Jesus. But when James and the Church in Jerusalem took a dim view of that, Peter backed away and supported them. It was left to Paul to call Peter out and contradict him. Peter let that happen. He had indeed learnt humility, if not always wisdom.
We are all of us sinners. The moment one stops knowing that, then the way os open to all sorts of sins which come from pride. But today’s Bible passages remind us that sin can have its own pride, and that if our guilt makes us think we are beyond redemption and God’s love, then we need to think again. We have unclean lips and we are a stiff-necked and sinful people. But God loves us, and if we will but receive the message His Son brought to us about love, then all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.