Thursday, June 01, 2017

"Do You Love Me?" by Colleen O’Sullivan

“(Paul’s) accusers stood around him but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead, they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.” (Acts 25:18-21)

After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”  (John 21:15-17)

Lord, you asked Peter to feed your sheep and to care for your lambs. That would be the sign of his love for you, you said. Help me today to demonstrate my love for you by being kind in my dealings with others, by showing compassion to the downtrodden and sorrowing, by listening to those who are heavily burdened, and by sharing out of my abundance with the poor and the hungry.

The Repentant Peter by El Greco, c. 1600,
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Poor Peter!  He has been racked with guilt, sorrow, and remorse for weeks. He has been longing to see his dear friend Jesus and dreading it at the same time. Now the moment has come. Jesus is cooking breakfast over a charcoal fire for the disciples who’ve been fishing. If Peter were never to see another charcoal fire again, it would be too soon. It was around just such a fire, seeking to stay warm, that he had denied knowing his dear friend, not once, but three times. What could he ever say to let Jesus know how deeply sorry he is?  He really just wants to fall down at Jesus’ feet and beg for forgiveness.

The thing is, however, we don’t always need words in Jesus’ presence. He knows what’s in our hearts. That must be the case in this instance because Jesus preempts any big confession scene by going straight to what he wants to talk about. Jesus will soon ascend to his Father and he wants to know that his ministry and mission will continue. He knows that Peter is sorry to the depths of his being, and he wants to let Peter know that he is forgiven by entrusting him with a mission.

Three times, in a counterbalance to Peter’s three denials, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  “Yes,” Peter says. “I love you.”  Each time, Jesus asks Peter to show his love by feeding Jesus’ lambs or sheep. Interesting that the way Jesus knows if we love him is not so much by what we say but by how we treat all God’s sons and daughters.

If we look at Paul’s situation in the first reading today, we see someone whose entire post-conversion life has been consumed by caring for God’s lambs. Paul has established churches in multiple locations. He has never ceased encouraging Christians, whether in person or by letter, in their beliefs and their actions toward one another. You only have to read Paul’s writings to see the love of Christ overflowing onto every page.

Jesus asks each one of us, “Do you love me?”  If the only answer Jesus is looking for is how we care for all the sheep of his flock, how do we measure up?  If we find ourselves wanting, just look around our neighborhoods or parishes or workplaces. It won’t take long at all to discover opportunities to “feed his lambs.”

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