Jesus asks Peter a question in Sunday’s Gospel.* How would you feel if he asked the same question of you?
The former disciples were milling around on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. (John 21:15) Jesus had appeared to them twice before, but they did not yet understand. They had not yet received the Holy Spirit
They were at loose ends.
Peter got tired of standing around so he said, I’m going fishing, anybody want to come? They joined him gladly and they fished all night. This might seem crazy from our point of view, but maybe not from theirs. Maybe, among other things, it was a way to handle stress.
The break of day revealed a man standing on shore.
John, the mystic, the one Jesus loved especially well, whispered hoarsely, “It is the Lord”!! Peter hurled himself into the water and wobbled the hundred yards to shore, leaving to someone else the job of bringing the boat in. It seems that Peter, the denier, actually loved Jesus very much.
And that is the question. Can you say that you love Jesus very much?
Jesus looks at your face and addresses you by your name. “Do you love me more than these?”
Such a question. What will you say? Answer the Lord when you are ready, even if it isn't perfect. Put it into words. Don’t read further till you have done this.
When he hears your response, listen to him say to you, “feed my lambs.”
Phew. Thank God the trial is over and you don’t have to deal with any more questions like that.
He asks you again, by name, “do you love me?”
How would such a repeated question affect you? For his part, Peter came emotionally unglued. He said loudly, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Our hearts go out to him, and also to you since you also have been asked a second time. What is your answer now? Put some thought into it.
After your answer, Jesus replies, “tend my sheep.”
Then, yet again, not just twice but a third time, he asks the tender, unnerving question—before you have had time to settle your mind and heart.
“Do you love me?” Let it echo inside you.
Does he suspect that you really do not love him? You need to know. So, consider your daily attitude toward Jesus and toward God. Do not say your answer lightly. Offer it quietly in prayer to Jesus, or out loud if you wish. Take your time. Pay attention to how it feels to say it. Maybe you will reply as Peter did, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”
Or do you have another answer? Something like,
Lord, you know everything, you know that I want to love you, but also that I want to have a good life too. You see the fear and the running away and the distraction that I live by—are you going to condemn me for them? I want to love you but … ”
Jesus answers, “feed my lambs.”
Stay with it. Think about it. Pray about it.
Doesn’t it mean that we who are sinful can be part of Jesus’ mission? We don’t have to be perfect? We are forgiven? If the answer is yes, then let us act as the Body of Christ always does.Feed his lambs.
You are invited to email a note to the author of this
Fr. John Foley, SJ