2019 – Cycle C
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-14
What is the difference between saying, “I love you” and asking “Do you love me?” It strikes me as being similar to the difference between saying, “I’m sorry” and “Can you forgive me?”
The statement and the question are not the same, are they?
The question form is risky. Risky because it puts, in this case, the issues of love or forgiveness beyond our control and places them at the feet of another person. The balance of power has been shifted. The other person has the freedom to answer of their own accord. Was Jesus apprehensive when he asked Simon Peter “…do you love me?” It was maybe only days, a week perhaps, since Peter publicly denied Jesus. And in Luke’s Passion, the denials took place in the presence and ear shot of Jesus who looked over at Peter. What was Jesus feeling then; what was he feeling now?
Yet this is how Jesus loves us. He gives us the freedom to return his love or to reject him; to be silent or be distant or… And not only that but Jesus’ first question goes deeper, not “…do you love me?” but “…do you love me more than these?”
“…do you love me more than your companions, your friends?”
“…do you love me more than your spouse?”
“…do you love me more than your children?”
“…do you love me more than…who?”
The question is not posed to set up a jealous, arbitrary choice. We do not need to choose between our children and Jesus or Jesus and our spouse. But we do need to realize that all our loves must first be rooted in our love for Jesus. So put your name at the head of the question, “N.…do you love me more than these?”
This breakfast encounter between Jesus and Peter had to be very awkward. It is not the first time they have seen each other since the crucifixion but it is the first time they are alone together. It is an intimate, uncomfortable and difficult moment between friends who are experiencing a distance between themselves, betrayed and betrayer, face to face. The question does not make it easier, does it?
As Peter seemingly does, risky questions should not be answered too quickly. Reflection should precede any answer because our answer may demand a commitment. Love and forgiveness always do, do they not? Is it the impetuousness of Peter or his nervousness in the moment that cause him to quickly blurt out, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”?
Encountering the resurrected Christ is not just about joy, hope and eternal life but about a commitment.
- In an isolating and lonely culture like ours, a commitment to nurture each other: “Feed my lambs”. “Tend my sheep”.
- As we commemorate the Holocaust this past week, a commitment to obey God rather than humans. “I was just following orders.” will no longer do. It never did.
- A commitment to a relationship above all others: “Follow me”.
- As we breathe the air of immorality in business, government, sports, higher education, a commitment to honesty and truth. And the willingness to pay the price for those virtues even when we are unfairly forced to make a choice.
The strict orders given and the interrogation of the apostles by the high priest continue today but in private offices and conversations, school board meetings, behind closed doors, in medical offices, on college campuses where our spiritual commitments are challenged by other sets of standards.
So the resurrected Jesus asks you and me, “…do you love me?”
And like the archangel Gabriel with all of creation awaited with bated breath an answer from Mary; so Jesus also waits for our response.