Do You Still Love Me?
3rd Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
This Sunday’s haunting gospel finds the disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They had seen the risen Lord, who instructed them to go there and wait for him. So by fishing they are being obedient. When Peter first met the Lord, he and his companions had fished all night and caught nothing. Now, once again three years later, they have worked all night without success. At daybreak, Jesus calls out to them from the shore – but strangely, at first they do not recognize him or his voice. Yet when, at his command, the nets are filled with fish, John is the first to realize that it is the Lord.
Peter can’t wait and jumps into the water to swim to shore. What sight greets him there? A charcoal fire. Where did Peter last see a charcoal fire? Only a short time earlier, where, at another charcoal fire, Peter denied Jesus three times. Notice that Jesus does not directly mention these three denials. Peter knows he has been forgiven. In fact, Jesus went so far as to give Peter and his successors the power to forgive sins.
There are so many lessons for us in this story. Peter was sorry for what he had done. Yet Peter is now asked three times how much he loves Jesus. Obviously, Jesus is giving Peter a chance to undo the three denials he had made earlier, but Peter doesn’t seem to understand this. He is hurt that Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?”
At various times in our lives, Jesus will come to us with this same question. It is not unlike a couple about to be married. If you ask them on their wedding day, of course they will say that they love each other! But then, listen to the vows: will you still love each other if you are sick as well as in health? If you are poor rather than rich? Until death? Like Peter, newly married couples will easily say “I do” to these professions of love, but in practice, the question will come up time and again in our lives: Do you still love me? Do you love me, even through all this?
In the various trials of life Jesus may appear unexpectedly, as if to ask this of us as well: will you still love me when I manifest myself through some difficult person in the family or office? Will you still love me when I permit you to be gravely ill or a loved one is taken from you? Will you still love me when prayer is difficult? Will you still love me after you have sinned? Are you willing to confess your sin and be forgiven?
The gospel stories are not just about Peter and the disciples. No, Jesus looks at each one of us, individually, and asks us, again and again, "Do you still love me?" Father Gary