Friday Focus: Do You Love Me?
In this week’s gospel, Christ’s time on earth is rapidly running out. He has much to do and little time to do it. He knows that he’s leaving very extraordinary things to be done by some very ordinary people. And what are those ordinary people doing? They’re out fishing. It’s what they know best.
Jesus makes a humble, but very powerful entrance. Like any casual passerby, he asks how the fishing is going. And when they tell him they’ve caught nothing, he tells them exactly where to find the fish. They do what he tells them and they are swamped with fish. And at that moment they recognize the helpful stranger with nature at his command. It is the risen Christ.
What better way to get a fisherman’s attention, than to tip him off on how to land a bumper catch? Jesus does and they do. And now that he’s broken the ice, Jesus gets down to business. Job one is to get Peter back on the leadership track. Back when the going got tough, Peter had denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus gives him three chances to make amends. The symmetry of Peter’s denials and subsequent affirmations of faith is striking. It tells us that God knows us and loves us in our frailty. Peter betrayed Jesus at the worst possible moment. And here is Jesus talking love and living love in its purest form…he forgives and forgives and forgives.
The exchange between Jesus and Peter is a masterpiece of economical communication. Jesus succinctly poses the irreducible question that frames the relationship between God and man: Do you love me? Before we can address the question, we must consider: What does loving God mean? Cui bono? Who benefits if and when we love God?
All creation benefits from our love of God. But we benefit the most, directly proportional to our love. Loving God produces what economists would call a Virtuous Circle: a beneficial chain of events that reinforce each other, with each event passing positive benefits on to the next in a closed cycle that continuously strengthens each link of the chain and consequently the chain itself. The Virtuous Circle of love breaks the Vicious Circle of self-absorption, pride and the pathologies of vice that feed on it.
In this dialog, the always passionate Peter responds with heartfelt protestations of love; while Jesus serenely poses both questions and answers. As Jesus has told us, God is the embodiment of love: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (John 4:16b) Jesus is not looking for lip-service love. The Good Shepherd tells Peter: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Dietrich Bonhoeffer expanded on these imperatives, saying: “To abide in love means to have open eyes, to be able to see things that only a few can see, namely the begging outstretched hands (and) to help (them), using everything one has.”
This Easter time Jesus asks us again: Do you love me? He’s not looking for artful expressions of devotion. He wants our love to answer him, not our words. In kindness, in caring, in generosity, in patience, in forgiveness, let’s feed his lambs, tend his sheep and rejoice in the love of the risen Christ. Alleluia!