When did you last feel guilty? What did you do, and what did you do with your guilt: confess it and make it right? Hide it and walk away?
What are you ashamed of? It could be related to the same situation if your guilt went unresolved. But shame is sneaky. You likely feel ashamed for things that aren’t your fault at all: body image, not fitting in with whatever group you were made to feel you had to fit in, insults you internalized as a child that reflected more about the person who uttered them than any truth about your character.
Guilt: I did something bad.
Shame: I am bad.
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that guilt can lead to feelings of shame. I did something bad because I am bad. And shame can lead to further guilt: since I’m bad, I might as well act badly. Like Adam and Eve eating the fruit in the garden (guilt) and realizing they were naked (shame over their beautifully created bodies), and hiding from God.
But those things are more easily dealt with than the shame most humans carry through no fault of their own. That requires much deeper, harder work, and I’d wager that most of us don’t want to go there…until for whatever reason we realize we have to.
Peter denied knowing Jesus three times (John 18), just as Jesus had told him he would (John 13). Peter felt guilty, but the way Jesus restored him indicates that Peter may also have been feeling ashamed (John 21).
The real shame expert, Brene Brown, says that if we wanted to grow shame in a petri dish we would add secrecy, silence, and judgment, all ingredients in ample supply.
Even though Peter denied Jesus publicly, it’s not a stretch to imagine that Peter had buried his actions. The other disciples weren’t there, so how would they know? And how would they react if they did? Again, judgment isn’t a huge leap… Oh Peter, how could you? Although, given the circumstances, maybe they would have done exactly the same; or maybe they could have imagined themselves in Peter’s sandals. But Peter wouldn’t know that, since he likely kept his guilt and shame to himself.
Secrecy, silence, and judgment multiply shame. Jesus not only addressed Peter’s guilt, He also obliterated Peter’s shame. This conversation wasn’t just redemption, or restitution; this conversation became a catapult to mission. Without it, we might not have the Church.
I find it fascinating that John chose this scene to conclude his gospel. Peter, who had lived and served with Jesus for three years, denied even knowing Jesus on the night He was arrested. But that doesn’t stop Jesus’ love, Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ mission. John wants us to know that no matter what we’ve done or how unqualified we feel, Jesus will meet us there, gently and lovingly lift us up, and give us meaningful service.
Leave behind guilt. Do whatever hard work you need to do to move beyond shame. Let Jesus love you right where it hurts (especially if you’re not ready to admit that it hurts…that’s where you need it). And then get up and follow Him on the adventure He has waiting for you.
Share some of the ways you demonstrated love for someone this week.
Read aloud John 21:15-25.
Also read John 18:15-18, 25-27. How did Jesus questioning Peter’s love three times connect with Peter’s three denials?
Even though Peter felt hurt by Jesus’ questions, how was Jesus demonstrating love for Peter?
How did Jesus ask Peter to demonstrate his love (vv15-17)? Why is that significant?
Since Jesus knows all things, why did He have this conversation with Peter? What difference does it make to say the words out loud?
Why did Jesus refer to Peter’s death (vv18-19)?
Why did Peter ask about John, and how did Jesus respond (vv20-24)?
Why do you think John chose this to be the last scene in his gospel (v25)? What does this scene tell us about Jesus and His followers that might act as a conclusion to the story?
How do you define shame? How is it like/different from guilt?
When is shame an appropriate response? When is it unhealthy?
How can safe and loving conversations and an appropriate course of action be helpful in overcoming shame?
If you can, share about a time when Jesus redeemed your shame.
Why is it important to demonstrate love with words and actions?
Are you better at loving with words or actions? How can you grow in balancing expressions of love?
How can you demonstrate your love for Jesus as you love others with words and actions this week?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?
Thank God for loving us no matter what and offering redemption from shame.
Family Share Questions
Reflect on John 21:15-19 individually and with your family:
How do you show someone you love them?
How does loving people help you love Jesus more?
Thank Jesus for all the people you love.
For more on shame, watch this Ted talk by Brene Brown.