“Fine Red Ink.”
Terry Brown taught us the Books of The Minor Prophets back in my Bible College days. He asked a paper of me on the Book of Nahum. Excitement immediately welled up inside of me. I studied extensively and typed on that old click-clack typewriter for hours. I put in effort that one couldn’t believe and time beyond anyone’s calculation. With massive pride I handed him my exegetical masterpiece. Well, that’s the way I saw it, anyway! Nahum has never been the same for me since the day that my monumental work was returned to me in, what some might argue as being, an unchristian state. The markings upon it were excessive. Paragraphs and notes, in “fine red ink,” filled every possible space. Accusations of ‘spelling-typos,’ ‘incomplete sentences,’ ‘too few pages,’ too few sources,’ and other things I dare not mention, lest my fragile heart be re-broken upon unpleasant memories. Believe it, or not, except for the ‘fragile heart’ bit and a little poetic licence, the rest is true. I guess, my good Bible Master was out of patience and wasn’t about to let me get by with less than ideal work.
Terry’s ‘river of red’ was a stark warning that expectations of quality, as defined by an accepted master (him), are not up for redefinition by the student (me). That despite any previous grace, offered by him by way of encouragement for the fledgling Bible scholar, the day had come for “realistic expectations.” Who could argue? Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher,…It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher” (Matthew 10:24-25). Peter had failed the test of discipleship when he denied Jesus three times. He had assured Jesus that he would finish strong—even unto death (Luke 22:33). On the day, his performance started bravely, by cutting off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10), but ended in bitter tears after those three denials of his Master (Matthew 26:75). The resurrected Christ had unfinished business with Peter. Peter had been sifted by Satan (Luke 23:31) and after failing, he needed to turn again (Luke 23:32); to be restored to his position as ‘Key-holder’ for the Kingdom.
In John 21 Jesus put Peter to the test on the shore of Galilee. Jesus met the shame of Peters’ three denials with three questions. “Peter, do you love me?” Peter’s reply was that of a man who had once declared his love for Jesus as being above and beyond his brothers. Now, this broken man could only muster enough dignity to say that Jesus knew that he had the love of a friend. Jesus asked the same question a second time and Peter answered in the same way. In Jesus’ third question he asked Peter if he even loved him like a friend? The dam was breached. Peter again wept, saying that Jesus knew he did. In between the questions were Jesus’ statements of purpose. Jesus told Peter to “Feed my sheep.” And this he did in the church until his dying day. But, for this to be achieved—for Peter to be ready for Pentecost and beyond—Jesus had to first restore Peter to his mission. Over the course of Peter’s discipleship training, Jesus had also filled every available space on his heart with “Fine red ink.” After all, we are all called to “realistic expectations” by our Master.