Do you love me? (22-05-23)
Psalm of Praise: Psalms 122:1-4
I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord."
Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel.
Bible Reading: John 21:15-17, 25
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?"
He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
Following Peter’s denials of Jesus at the crucifixion, Jesus meets with some of the disciples for breakfast by the lake. Afterwards he has a heart-to-heart with Peter in order to deal with the past and to reassure and reinstate him. Unfortunately some of the sense of their conversation is lost in the limitations of the English language, and specifically in our use of the word ‘love’.
At different times I might say ‘I love chocolate’, ‘I love holidays in Cornwall’, ‘I love my job’, I love Helen’. Everyone will understand what each statement means, even though the meaning behind my use of the word ‘love’ varies in each one.
Such is the case between Jesus and Peter. In our English bibles we translate two very different Greek words as ‘love’, agapé and phileo. In his first two questions Jesus actually asks Peter ‘Do you agapé me?’ meaning, ‘Do you love me unconditionally or sacrificially?’ Peter, though, replies, ‘Lord you know that I phileo you’ which means, ‘Lord you know that I love you as a friend or brother.’ But then, in his third question, Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you phileo me?’, i.e., ‘Do you love me as a friend or brother?’
In this exchange I think Jesus met Peter where he was on his journey of faith. Gone was all his bravado as Jesus enabled him to face up to his failings. Then, with his words, ‘Feed my sheep’ and ‘Follow me’ he reinstated him as a disciple, as a follower of Jesus’.
Jesus also meets us where we are on our journey of faith, calling us to follow him and to deepen our commitment to him and to his kingdom.
I wonder how you would answer Jesus if he was to ask you the same questions he asked Peter.
Thank you, Lord, that you see beyond my failings to the person I can be when I follow in your footsteps.
Will you come and follow me?