Do You Love Me?
The Gospel for today is packed with such rich imagery. From Peter leaping out of the boat into the sea to run to Jesus on the shore, to the smell of the fire on the beach ready to prepare them a meal to eat, to the intimate conversation between Jesus and Peter offering reconciliation, there is much to ponder.
Despite betraying Jesus three times in his darkest hours, Peter is the first to race to him on the shore. What kind of love is this that throws aside guilt and shame? So often, in our own failures and shortcomings and scenes of embarrassing moments we play on repeat in our heads, our first inclination is to hide. And yet we see Peter run to Jesus, not willing to wait for the boat to come to shore. Jesus greets Peter with love, with the warmth and light of a fire ready to provide for him and the others in their hunger.
The intimacy of their friendship is not lost. There is no resentment. In His perfect love, Jesus offers Peter a chance to restore what was broken in his prior denials. Three times Peter denied Christ. Three times Jesus asks him, “Do you love me?” to which Peter responds, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Each opportunity to reorient his heart to love is followed by an invitation to respond with action. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
Love. English misses many distinctions of the word “love” which are present in other languages and used throughout this passage. In the Greek, there are two different words used by Jesus and Peter. Jesus uses “agape,” which is an unconditional, selfless love – the love of the Father for us. Peter uses “phileo,” which is brotherly love. The first two times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with an unconditional love. Peter responds that he loves him as a brother. The third time, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him as a brother and Peter is able to match him in his response. Jesus allows Peter to offer as much as he is able in that moment, whatever the reason. Though Jesus meets Peter there, he calls Peter to more – to move to agape, the self-giving sacrificial love of the Father, in his revelation of what the future would hold.
As a mom, I’m often asked by certain children, “Do you love me?” I am tempted to reply as Peter does, “You know that I love you!” I wonder though, if the question isn’t so much about affection, but about sacrifice. Am I worth your sacrifice? Am I enough for you to give yourself to me without condition? Do you agape me, or do you love me with resentment or begrudgingly, at your convenience?
It isn’t just a question my children ask, but rather one we all face on our journey of discipleship. We are called to love God and love others. Do we do so freely? Unconditionally? Does our love respond with selfless action? The call to love is a difficult one. It leaves us vulnerable and often wounded, though perhaps stops short of crucifixion in this day and age. Still, it requires a continual dying to self which is challenging in a culture of rugged individualism. In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye asks Golde, his wife, “do you love me?” and she responds in song about how her love has been shown through her care of him, if not her words.
Feed my lambs. Are we nurturing our young, making a way for them to grow and thrive?
Tend my sheep. Are we caring for the marginalized and vulnerable, leaving the 99 to find the 1?
Feed my sheep. Are we filling the hungry with good things and Good News, or rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful for our own comfort and gain?
Love demands action. Leave the guilt and shame of the past behind this Easter and run to Jesus like Peter. Let the power of Christ fill you with the strength to love – in action – without counting the cost.