Do You Love Me?
Today’s gospel has stirred up many deeper thoughts than usual. Why? Because there comes to me a way of considering what Jesus might be saying to me and you at this time in our lives.
We have heard this story several times in the recent Lenten season as well as in the Resurrection days. This event in the lives of the apostles as well as the Risen Christ is his final appearance to the apostles and disciples as his “visits” are recorded in the four evangelists’ accounts of Jesus’ life.
The supporting actor in this event is St. Peter. It is the conversation that Jesus has with him after breakfast is finished. Obviously there must have been some conversation occurring when Jesus turned his attention to Peter. Now it is important to consider one particular aspect of Peter’s life that is not mentioned. It is how this man, this vociferous voice among the apostles, has dealt with what must have been a tremendous cross that he had to carry. The cross must have weighed heavily upon Peter’s mind, heart and soul. Recall that on the evening before Jesus died, Peter denied knowing Jesus, the man who was being questioned by the Roman authorities. “I do not know the man.” These words that must have been engraved in his heart. Each time the Lord appeared to the apostles, Peter must have feared Jesus’ might ask him “Why? Why did you deny that you knew me?”
Well, on the beach, after a good meal, Jesus began the rehabilitation of the man he wanted to be the head of his Church. Jesus asked one question three times. Each time Peter heard the words a burning sensation must have seared his heart and mind. Peter, “Do you love me ...” Three times Jesus questions him. What was Jesus seeking to achieve?
It has been suggested that Jesus was asking Peter, without directly recalling his denial, to confront the memories that troubled his soul, that confused the thinking of his mind. What might be at the heart of Jesus’ question put before Peter and his guilt that he harbored in his heart and soul is this: do you love me more than your memories of failed love, failed devotion, failed loyalty and a denial that brought about shredded skin, nailed hands and feet, a thorn-pierced head ... all causing the death of his friend?
What Jesus was asking Peter and is asking us today is this: are you strong enough to overcome any parts or moments of our past lives that have damaged our inner peace, sins that have prevented us from sharing in the amazing and almost unbelievable love that our God wants us to have in Jesus Christ? What Jesus conveys is that until we can love Jesus more than all the past failures, past sins, until that happens, we cannot be the person that God wants us to be. It is Jesus asking us three times each day: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?
Doing this, Jesus is being the spiritual psychologist, asking if we love him more than any of these past moments that have prevented us from enjoying the full measure, the complete happiness, the peace the Risen Lord wishes to share with us not once but each and every day of our lives. Can you, can I be as open to these questions as was Peter and mean it as he obviously did in the years that remained of his lifetime on this earth? It is the challenge, it is our spiritual rehabilitation that Jesus, our friend, is putting before each of us.
I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.