Not what we expected

Jesus is not what we expected.  But that is far better!

Full Text: 

Not what we expected

March 23, 2014 – John 18:12-27


            My favorite book on marriage is one I’ve never read.

            I’ve started it a couple of times, but haven’t gotten very far.  Still, I’ve kept the book on the shelf above my desk because it is one of those books whose title, I believe, is worth the price of the book.

            The title is: “You’re not what I expected.”

Every married couple goes through this.  At some point we realize this person we’ve pledged our lives to is not the person we thought he or she was.  Romance, after all, is putting our best foot – or face – forward.  But eventually that face comes down.  We discover another side to this person, a side of this person much less to our liking.  Or maybe we discover that we’d actually been fooled, either by them or by ourselves, all along and this person is nothing like we thought. 

Sylvia and I went through this.  Early in our marriage, we both had our moments of, “If I had known this about him…” or “How on earth can I live with this woman?”  And that’s what we had to do – figure out, given who we were finding this person to be, how to live with each other.

            But that wasn’t the only problem I have had in marriage.  It wasn’t only that, “You’re not what I expected.”  It was also that, “I’m not what I expected.”  I had an understanding of myself that didn’t prove to be true – or at least not as true as I thought it was.  I wasn’t as patient as I expected.  I wasn’t as calm as I expected.  I wasn’t as kind and understanding as I had thought I was before I got married.  It’s easy to fool ourselves about those things as well.

            So, I had to ask, “Who am I really?  How do I live with THIS person?  How do I live with me?”  And maybe even more important, “How do I become the person I want to be?”


            Jesus is not what we expected.  We expected someone who would immediately make our lives better.  He would give us a source of fresh, clean water.  He would give us as much bread and fish as we could eat.  He would cure all our ills and raise all our dead.  And he would sit on the throne in Jerusalem, beat off the Romans and bring glory to Israel.

            We did not expect that he would die – not just get killed himself, but freely lay down his life for us out of love.

            Jesus is not what we expect.  Jesus is not what Peter expected.  But then Peter – it is safe to say – is not what he expected.

            When Jesus tells the disciples that he is going where they cannot come, Peter vehemently protests.  He insists that he will go all the way to death with him, that he will lay down his life for Jesus.  When they are in the Garden of Gethsemane and the troops come to arrest Jesus, Peter grabs a sword and one of the high priest’s slaves.  And when Jesus is taken away, Peter runs after him.

            Peter is the most loyal disciple.  But then he does something we don’t expect.  He does something he doesn’t expect.  When confronted, Peter denies being a disciple of Jesus.  He denies being in the garden when Jesus was arrested.  He says, “I am not!”  He says it not once, not twice, but three times.

            Peter is not what he expected.  All the while Peter is saying, “I am not!” Jesus is saying, “I am!”  Jesus has said everything openly.  He has laid all his cards out on the table.  Peter hides everything.  Jesus has hidden nothing.  Peter denies everything.  Jesus denies nothing.

            Jesus told Peter this was going to happen.  At the end of chapter 13, when Peter insists that he will lay down his life for Jesus, Jesus says, “Really?  Is that true?  The truth is that, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

            That part of the story is in all four gospels.  But John’s version of the story plays out differently.  The scene of Peter’s denial seems to end abruptly.  Peter does not remember what Jesus said.  He does not go out and weep.  He certainly doesn’t resort to Judas’ action of hanging himself. 

What happens instead is that after Jesus is resurrected, there is a reconciliation scene.   This happens only in John’s gospel.  After Jesus has been raised, Jesus takes Peter aside and says, “Peter, do you love me more than these?”  In remembrance of Peter’s three denials, Jesus asks this question three times.  Three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  And three times, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”

            Jesus does not say – “Well, it’s OK then.  I love you.  I forgive you.  We’re still good buddies.”  Those things are true.  But what Jesus does is give Peter something to do.  He gives him a mission.   Jesus is the good shepherd, after all.  All his followers are sheep.  They are lambs.  Peter’s mission is to care for them.  Peter’s mission is to carry on the work of Jesus.


            In our marriage, it is not only that Sylvia has not been what I expected.  Worse, I have not been what I expected.  But the good news is that I discovered that in the context of a loving relationship.  I can seek to be the person I do expect, the person I would like to become.  And Sylvia’s forgiveness of me has been an integral part of that.  Time and again, Sylvia has forgiven me more quickly and more readily that I have been able to forgive myself.  That has allowed me to start again and to keep going.

            So, it also is it Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter that makes it possible for him to change and for him to carry on the work of Jesus in the world.

            Peter is not what we expect.  But the good news is that Jesus is not what we expect.  Despite Peter’s denial, Jesus remains faithful.  When Peter kept saying, “I am not,” Jesus kept saying, “I am.”  By Jesus’ forgiveness, Peter is made a new person.

            And so also with you.  God forgives for more easily than you forgive yourself.  God forgives you over and over again.  And God gives you work to do – the work of Jesus. 

            And that is far more than we can expect!