Let not the wise boast of his wisdom, nor the strong boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches. But rather, let those who boast, boast of this: that in their prudence they know me, know that I, the Lord, act with fidelity, justice, and integrity on earth. How I take delight in these, says the Lord. — Jeremiah 9:22-23
When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”— John 21:21-22
Oh, Peter. Is there anyone in Scripture who brings us more consolation than Peter? He’s such a mess and yet so loved. He’s always making mistakes—enormous mistakes—and still he’s chosen. I can’t wait to sit down with passionate, impulsive Peter one day and see this intense man made gentle by Love. Until then, though, I take such comfort in reading about him.
This post-Resurrection passage shows us Peter moments after he’s been forgiven for denying Christ three times. In dramatic fashion, Jesus sends Peter out for a miraculous catch of fish, just as he did when Peter was first called. He sits Peter down beside a charcoal fire (reminiscent of the charcoal fire beside which Peter denied him). He asks Peter three times to declare his love and declares that his promise will be fulfilled: Peter will lead the Church of Christ, be his first Vicar, and be faithful to the end.
It’s a happy ending like Peter could never have believed. You’d think he’d sit back, thrilled to have been reconciled to Christ.
But Peter can’t keep his eyes off of John.
You remember John. The Beloved Disciple. The one who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper. The faithful one who never once denied him.
Peter can’t rejoice because he’s busy comparing. He can’t see the incredible gift he’s been given because he’s busy looking over to see what John got. He’s wondering if the mercy he’d been offered was really a halfway, second class do-over. The greatest gift of his life and he doesn’t notice it because he’s worried about what someone else got.
We saw this again and again in Rio. Chad Le Clos missing out on a medal because he was too busy looking at Phelps to look at the finish line. Sprinters wasting valuable energy checking out the competition. Gymnasts succumbing to nerves because they feel sure they can’t beat the routine they’re following. Silver medalists pouting because they’re only second-best in the world.
It works the other way, too. When we’re not resenting our fate because somebody else’s seems better, we’re rejoicing in our superiority. We’re boasting in our wisdom or strength or riches, imagining that somehow our half dozen gold medals (or 85 likes on Facebook or million dollars in the bank or Pinterest-perfect cupcakes) mean anything at all. We’re clinging to rhinestones while the Lord is offering us the pearl of great price.
You don’t have to be a Christian to learn this lesson, but it’s awfully tough to be a Christian if you don’t: your worth has nothing to do with how you measure up against anyone else. It’s not about your athletic prowess or your net worth or your popularity, and whatever measure you use will only serve to destroy your peace.
Even your ability to memorize Scripture or spend long hours in prayer or keep your temper or give magnanimously—none of this defines you. You’re not a better Christian because you pray more rosaries than I do or a holier person because you feel more butterflies when you pray. Your holiness, your faith, your ability to please God have everything to do with him and nothing whatsoever to do with me.
It’s been said—occasionally over the last century and incessantly since the advent of social media—that comparison is the thief of joy. The devil loves that trick. He loves to rob us of our confidence in God’s love by pointing out how much worse we are than other people, or how much better. If he can’t make you loathe yourself, he’ll make you loathe other people.
Either way, it’s a trick. Your walk with God isn’t about how you compare with anybody other than the person God made you to be. The minute you start telling yourself how much better or smarter or faster you are, picture Jesus saying, as he said to Peter, “So what? You follow me.” When you become convinced that you’re never going to be as successful or patient or pious as someone, listen to it again: “So what? You follow me.”
We need other people in this walk with Christ. There’s no question about that. But the moment we take our eyes off him and focus on them, everything starts to go wrong. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and see if we don’t find ourselves champions in the end. Forget who you think who should be or how you look next to somebody else. You follow him.