The third time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" ---John 21:17-19
Two days after the terrorist attacks of 2001, a prayer service was being held in downtown Boston for the rescue operation in New York, and for the families of those who were confirmed lost. The fear had not yet turned to anger as much as it had turned to compassion; people in every city--even small cities far from the deadly sites--were doing everything they could think of to be helpful, even loving.
Just before the service was set to begin, I was handed a note: A Boston relative of a New York firefighter was asking us to pray he would be found alive. Sometime during the service, I received another note telling me the firefighter had turned up alive while we were praying. It was a difficult moment because no one knew how to react. Family and coworkers of those on the four Boston flights that were hijacked knew for sure none of their loved ones had survived, and being aware of this, it seemed wrong to celebrate what at the time appeared to be a directly-answered prayer. Someone on my left said in an open whisper "Praise God!" It felt like the perfect response to speak for all of us, so we continued the service. That praise had been raised by someone without hope: His coworkers/friends were among the passengers on the planes that hit the towers.
Later we would learn the firefighter had entered the building with his team, but had been sent back to pick up equipment left behind; and the tower had collapsed while he was outside. He was found frantically digging and searching in the area where his friends were buried. Reportedly, he'd been so desperate to do something--anything--he had failed to let anyone know he was safe during those two days.
We like to say "misery loves company," but in times of crisis that's rarely true. In almost every instance, those who have suffered much spend time and energy making it clear they're happy when others have escaped that suffering. Without realizing it, the Boston whisperer was speaking to our crowd and to the safe firefighter, telling us it was good to rejoice, while also giving voice to those who could no longer speak: The loved ones lost would all want to tell their family and friends it was good they weren't lost, too; it was okay to survive.
It isn't only terrorism that creates tragic loss. It doesn't take a crisis to leave someone disabled by false guilt; in fact, many of us carry it without realizing it. Jesus understood that in today's Scripture passage. Peter had been ready to take on an army of soldiers when he drew his sword to defend Jesus in the Garden; and it's very likely that his later denials of Jesus were the result of his confusion over why Jesus stopped him from trying to be brave. So when Jesus saw Peter after the Resurrection, He asked Peter three times if he loved Him, the exact number of times as Peter had denied Him. In that powerful exchange, Jesus was drawing out of Peter the false guilt and confusion He knew Peter was feeling. After all, it was this weakened, broken disciple whom Jesus told much earlier that He would build His church on: "The Rock" that would one day be Peter, post-Resurrection.
Jesus doesn't just offer salvation to His children; He's also in the business of real comfort, the kind that puts broken lives back together even before they reach eternity. If you or someone you know is struggling with terrible pain and guilt, it's time to discover what Jesus means when He tells us to "come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Whether you know it or not, it's a rest you deserve because He made you worthy of it, and it's a rest He longs for you to know.
Then, when you're strong again, you'll want to introduce others to the man who stills the waters of a storm as surely as He does the storms in a soul.