Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Do you love me?"

It is the end of the Easter season—if for Christians there really ever is an end to the Easter season.

As I’ve read the gospels during this time period I was struck by the passage in John 21:15-23 that the church always refers to as the part where Jesus restores or reinstates Peter.

Jesus has risen from the dead. He has appeared to his disciples—numerous times in fact. This time he is on the beach cooking breakfast. The disciples have been fishing. As they return to shore, Peter sees Jesus on the shore, jumps from the boat, leaving the others in eager anticipation of reaching his Lord and Teacher before the others.

When they arrive and as they eat, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him a question.

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you truly love me more than these?”

Peter’s response is quick, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

But Jesus repeats the question, “Simon son of Jonah, do you truly love me?”

Again Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,”

But again Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

This time Peter’s response is to put it back on the Lord, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Remember this is the same guy who not a few weeks before had denied ever knowing Jesus for fear of what others would do if they knew he did know Jesus. As the question kept coming up, I’m thinking that the memory or that time of betrayal became clearer and clearer in Peters mind.

This appears to be the only time in scripture where Jesus confronts Peter one on one in a non-confrontational way about the proverbial “How do you really feel about me?” following his death and resurrection.

We don’t know whether Jesus ask these questions over and over because he wanted to make Peter feel better about himself, or assure him that he understood Peter’s denial, or even that he forgave him, although all those things could be true.

Jesus had a job for Peter. Every time he asked the question he followed it by giving the instruction. “Feed my sheep”, or “Tend my sheep”.

You see Jesus knew that for Peter to continue on in the calling of a follower of his, as a minister on his behalf, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, Peter’s love for Christ would be what enabled him to feed his sheep. Jesus knew that Peter would have to love his Lord so much that he would never deny or disregard him again. Jesus knew that Peters love for him would have to be his all in all.

The last time Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” He followed it with, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Jesus was telling Peter that his life was no longer his own to do with as he pleased. Jesus had a job for him and Peter’s love for Jesus was going to be the fuel, the catalyst that gave him the ability to manifest itself in proclaiming Jesus, and tending and caring for the flock. Sure enough, when the Day of Pentecost arrived, and the Holy Spirit came, Peter’s love for his Lord, coupled with the Power of the Holy Spirit enabled him to “feed Christ’s sheep”, and yes, later on, even die for his faith in his Lord.

So as I read this passage and the words, “Do you love me?”, kept coming off the page, and I realized the direction Peters live took after this exchange, I wondered, would I sound a lot like Peter in my response to Jesus if he asked me “Do you love me?”

If Jesus asked you, “Do you love me?” What would you say?