Deuteronomy 6:1-9, John 21:15-19
May 22, 2011
This week’s story follows last week’s story. Jesus was with his disciples. They were by the sea of Galilee. The disciples had just come in from a very “interesting” time of fishing. They had caught nothing all night, but at Jesus direction, they had cast their nets, not far away, but simply “on the other side of the boat.” And they had experienced the abundance of Jesus.
Now he had one more lesson for them. They were in from the boats and the fish. They were having breakfast on the beach. And when they were done, Jesus turned to Peter – seemingly out of the blue – and asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Now we can say a lot about this. And Harold talked about some of this at the first service last week. He told us what some people have said about it over the years. And one of the most important things that’s been said, is how this conversation had a direct correlation with Peter’s betrayal. Jesus asks this question three times, the same number of times Peter betrayed him. I’ve heard some people try to play down the importance of that. But I think it’s a huge connection.
First of all, even before Jesus asks the question, take note of the way he addresses Peter. He doesn’t call him Peter! He uses his former name, “Simon.” And there’s no epithet, no description, other than “son of John.” Gone for the moment is “Peter, the Rock.” He was anything but rock that night in the courtyard weeks before! And he knew it. While Jesus was being questioned by the high priest, Peter was being questioned by one of his servants, and he had failed miserably. And that, I’m sure, was still weighing heavily on his heart – even now, after everything had turned around so amazingly.
So when Jesus called him “Simon,” I believe that there was no doubt he was raising the issue of that huge thing that still stood between them! Think about it. If two friends or family members in our world have some kind of “falling out,” and they attempt to get back together, is there not some tension that hangs in the air? I believe it was that way that morning. Jesus didn’t have to mention the actual betrayal. It was still on Peter’s mind!
Actually, as Harold pointed out, that tension was probably there for all of them. Yes, Peter had denied Jesus – verbally, but they had all deserted him. And the Gospel writers are specific in pointing out that they had fled for their lives that night in the garden just as he said they would! So, Peter might have been singled out that morning, but this exchange the others were hearing cut them deeply, too!
Well, I’d like you to think today about your own life. Is there something that stands between yourself and Jesus? Have you betrayed him? Have you abandoned him? Did you experience pressures or fears that caused you to flee into the night? Or have you just sort of “drifted away” from that place where he was walking beside you? As you approach him in prayer, are there things that you’re ashamed of? Is that tension hanging in the air, like the one that was present that day on the beach?
I think we’ve all been there, haven’t we? And as we think about that, I would remind all of us all – myself included, that the mercy of God is great! His grace and love is beyond our comprehension! He reached out to Peter that day, and to the others, with his grace and mercy. He offered an amazing reconciliation for so deep a betrayal. Three times, he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” “Do you love me more than these.”
Ok then, what was Jesus asking? I’ve heard a number of interpretations of that question. “Do you love me more than these” might have meant “do you love me more than you love these men?” Or it could have meant, do you love me more than you love these – the trappings of his life as a fisherman.” Some have suggested that. In other words, “Do you love me more than you love anyone or anything else?” Or, Jesus also could have meant, “do you love me more than these men love me?” “Is your love greater than everyone else’s love?”
I don’t know which it is for sure. But I suspect the question is about all those things. I believe he’s asking Peter the depth of his devotion, in response to the depth of his betrayal. Don’t forget Peter’s bold statement in the Upper Room. Jesus had just told them he was going leave them soon. And then he said, “A new Commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you.” And to people who lived by the ancient “Commandments of God” that was a huge statement! “I’m giving you a New Commandment. I’m giving you number 11!” And by the way, the beginning of that sentence in Latin is “Maundatum” from which we get the term “Maundy Thursday.”
So, that was an amazing moment. But even so, Peter is still concerned about Jesus saying he would be leaving them soon. He asks, “Why can I not follow. I would lay down my life for you!” There’s that bold statement! There’s that high level of love and devotion. But Jesus says, “Will you? I tell you that, before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will have denied me three times.” Read that exchange sometime. It’s found in John’s Gospel, at the end of chapter 13. (John 13:31-39)
I’m sure all of those words had been ringing in Peter’s mind ever since. John doesn’t tell us how long a period of time had passed before this encounter by the sea. But since they’re all back in Galilee, we have to assume that it’s been at least a number of days, perhaps weeks. That’s a long time to stew about this betrayal. And so far, Jesus hasn’t brought it up! But he’s doing so now. And now he’s offering to Peter – who he calls Simon at this point – the thing he probably wished for the most – reconciliation.
Jesus is all about that! Yes, love and forgiveness are important. And Jesus offers them in abundance. But reconciliation is more than that. Reconciliation is restoration. It is a “bringing together.” It is a “reuniting.” It is a mending of brokenness. And that’s what Jesus offers to Peter. And he offers the same to us. We need to know that his grace doesn’t just say “I forgive your sins.” It doesn’t just say, “Don’t worry about them any more.” His grace restores us! It makes us again his children!
So the question still remains. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” That’s part of this reconciliation for Peter. And it’s part of our reconciliation with God, too. And it’s a huge part! We need to ask ourselves, “Do we love God?” And the important question in that is, “How much do we love him?” this is not just a quality thing. It’s also quantity! Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me more than these?” What about us? We pray to God. We learn about God. But do we ever say to God, “I love you?” And what is the depth of that love?
I’ll never forget the story a friend of mine told in seminary. He was preaching in chapel one morning, and he told of the time he was a student pastor at a church in the area. And one day he came into his office and found a little boy sitting in his chair behind his desk. Seizing the moment, he sat down and said to the boy, “Pastor, I have a problem.” “I’m not sure God loves me. What should I do?” The boy’s answer was priceless. He said, “Love God!” Taking it further, my friend asked, “Well, how much should I love God?” The boy said, “A ton!”
Scripture says it in slightly different way. It says, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” But I kind of like that boy’s way of putting it. “You shall love the Lord your God – a ton!”
Well, my friends, remember and know that God loves you – a ton! And he doesn’t want just to give you his grace. He doesn’t want just to give you his forgiveness. He wants reconciliation. He wants that deep love and that constant relationship with you. So, say this again, and put your name in here. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Eternal God of all the Universe, we do love you. And we thank you and praise you that you sent your son to show us how much you love us. Help us to grow in that love, and to walk with you each day. Help us to know your peace and your joy, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.