The insights I received are from my reading of the Gospels detailing the interaction between Lord Jesus Christ and his disciple Simon Peter, during the Passover meal before Jesus was betrayed; and the encounter, by the sea of Galilee, after Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.
I am considering the statement that Simon Peter made, that he would follow Jesus even if it meant that he could be killed, as his ‘resolution’. The context of Peter’s resolution is the night of the Passover meal, after which Jesus was betrayed, tried, tortured, and crucified. Just before the meal, Jesus washes and dries the feet of his disciples, clearly instructing them by action and words, to serve those they will lead (John 13: 4-10). Jesus predicts his betrayal by one of his disciples and his death. He reminds them that after he leaves, they should be identified as his followers, with the love they have for one another (John 13:34-35). Jesus also tells his disciples that it is not yet the time for them to follow him to be killed (John 13:36).
It is at that moment that according to John’s gospel, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (John 13:37). In Matthew’s gospel, Peter’s statement is more sweeping: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” It was so compelling that all the disciples joined in with Peter to make the same statement. (Matthew 26:35). In Mark’s Gospel, Peter’s resolve reveals a comparative and competitive edge: “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” (Mark 14:29). However aspirational the resolution, it failed. As soon as Peter makes the statement, resolving to follow Jesus in the face of certain death, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny repeatedly three times that he has anything to do with Jesus, that very night.
I think the resolution failed because it was not just about following Jesus, but in a boastful manner, perhaps Peter imagined standing alongside Jesus in the face of persecution, outshining the other disciples. Perhaps it was because he was not listening to Jesus’s message to his disciples, regarding their witness to the world beyond the death of Jesus. Perhaps Peter made the resolution without counting the costs.
But the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, with the encounter with his dispirited disciples who had gone back to fishing in the sea of Galilee, gave them the opportunity to redeem their resolution and pursue their commitment to follow Jesus in the face of persecution and martyrdom (John 21). The resolution was the same: Following Jesus, whatever the cost.
Before spending time with his disciples, who were still at sea, Jesus pointed them to where they could haul a hefty catch of fish—after a long and futile night of fishing (John 21:5-6). When they realised that the helpful stranger was Jesus, they dressed up, hauled the boat and net ashore, and rushed back to Jesus. By the time they arrived, Jesus had prepared a fire and breakfast. It was the third time the resurrected Jesus had appeared to his disciples. Before asking them any questions, Jesus fed them (John 21:7-14).
In the process of putting the disciples back on track, Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him—three times. Jesus was helping Peter to overcome his own doubts about his love for Christ. The basis of following Jesus, whatever the cost, is love. To Peter’s three affirmative answers, Jesus responds with instructions to feed and tend to God’s sheep, in the spirit of the Good Shepherd. Love must be lived and experienced. The authority of Peter does not make him the owner of the sheep. Peter internalised this message, based on his instructions to the elders of the church he wrote in 1 Peter 5: 1,2.
The life, mission and martyrdom of the disciples and the success of the early church in sharing the Good News widely, bears witness to them following Jesus, whatever the cost.
In conclusion, I gathered seven lessons on redeeming and following through my resolutions this year:
1. The motivation and intention to serve the other and our wider context more effectively is more sustainable rather than ones that fuel self-aggrandisement.
2. We can succeed if our source of strength and sustenance comes from God - rather than being self-generated.
3. Accountability to others and taking responsibility for oneself is critical.
4. The willingness for introspection and the openness and humility to be questioned repeatedly help us to be on track.
5. Failure lays open new possibilities for rectifying our approach to the challenges we face.
6. Transformation comes with consistency, over multiple encounters, and not necessarily with dramatic and vast changes, in a short period of time.
7. Building up good habits, according to scriptural statutes, to bring about behavioural change, can lead to meaningful and purpose-driven lives.