Healing a Painful Memory

Lou Lotz

Read: John 21:15-19

Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you. (v. 17)

Fish wasn’t the only thing that got grilled that morning as the disciples sat with Jesus around the campfire. The Lord repeats his challenge to Peter—”Do you love me?”—three times to match Peter’s three denials in the courtyard of the high priest, so the theory goes. Jesus is offering Peter a way to heal the sting of a painful memory—three affirmations of love to wash away the pain and guilt of three denials.

Is it a coincidence that Peter’s three denials and his three affirmations both take place with the smell of a charcoal fire in the air? A fire is burning, we are told, both in the courtyard of the high priest and here on the seashore. Smell can trigger deep memories. To this day the smell of peppermint transports me back to my childhood when my grandmother would give me a Wilhelmina Peppermint to keep me from squirming and wiggling in the pew in church. The peppermints were thick and chalky, and two of them would get you through an entire sermon. What did Peter remember when he smelled a campfire?

Painful memories cannot be erased, but they can be cleansed, healed, and rendered impotent. Have you denied Jesus? Have you said of Jesus, by your actions or your failure to act, “I don’t know the man!” Those are painful memories, but God forgives you and offers you a clean slate, a new beginning. Jesus is asking you, “Do you love me?” He knows. —Lou Lotz 

As you pray, answer the Lord’s question.