Do You Love Me? John 21:1-14 John 21:15-19
The Easter Season is my favorite time of the year... and (in the Church) we get to celebrate the Easter Season for 7-weeks... today being the 3rd Sunday of Easter.
Of course, if you think back to Holy Week, you can’t help but notice that God’s Word marched us through mountains and valleys... ups and downs... highs and lows.
Palm Sunday was a high point... with Hosannas and celebration in the air... crowds lining the street - it was the long awaited arrival of the One who’d redeem Israel. But Thursday is a turning point... the Last Supper (and Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet) caused the disciples to question things, and wonder what was going on. Of course that questioning soon became fear when Jesus was arrested and “Hosanna” became “Crucify Him.” And the nightmare began. Good Friday was the low point - and emotional crash that left Jesus’ disciples hopelessly doubtful and alone, as they witnessed the crucifixion - if but from a distance. But, then, seemingly out of nowhere... on the Third Day came the Resurrection - the best news ever!
Of course, after the Resurrection - the emotional roller coaster slowed down... and life for the disciples was starting to return to normal. The disciples found themselves in Galilee, waiting... not really sure about what to do next. They were more or less in limbo...
So with nothing better to do... Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”
And, I for one, don’t blame him. Maybe he was bored, maybe he couldn’t sit still, and I get that! Or - maybe after everything he and the others had witnessed - the highs and lows of the past days... maybe Peter needed a break. I’m sure he needed to step away for a moment, to clear his mind and re-gather his emotions.
But maybe... it was more than a simple break. Maybe Peter was saying, “You know what? I’m done. I’ve had enough - all I can stand - I’m going back to the life I knew before... before Jesus...”
I’m sure, of all the disciples, that Peter was probably the one who - despite the Resurrection - felt the worst. After all, when Jesus had needed his support the most - he failed. Peter denied even knowing Jesus - not once or twice, but three times. And the shame and guilt of that triple denial was surely still weighing heavy on his heart.
So Peter up and decided... to go fishing.
Of course, nothing was biting... the other disciples had accompanied Peter... and they spent the whole night without catching a single fish. And that’s gotta’ be a new kinda misery!
But then, seemingly out of nowhere... Jesus appeared on the shore. And at first, the disciples didn’t recognize that it was Jesus - but when we told the disciples to cast their nets again, off the right side of the boat - and they suddenly caught more fish than they could haul into boat... John announced, “It’s the Lord!” - Peter immediately jumped in the water and swam for shore.
Eventually, Jesus took Peter aside, and asked him, “Do you love me more than these?” Of course, it’s easy to think Jesus was talking about the other disciples, but I’m not so sure. I think Jesus was talking about the stuff of the world - Peter’s past way of life - all the things that offered Peter security and status and comfort.
In other words, Jesus seemed to be asking Peter if he was “once and for all” ready to give up his past... and spend the rest of his life working for the Gospel.
Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter replied “yes.” To which Jesus commanded, “feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” Jesus was telling Peter to shepherd those under his care. And then Jesus called Peter, a second time, “follow me” - and that’s exactly what Peter did... not just for a season... but for the rest of his life.
You know... I can’t help but wonder how many of us are in Peter’s position. How many of us have come to a place in our relationships where damage has been done - and we know we’re to blame. Maybe we broke a confidence... stabbed a co-worker in the back - let someone take the blame for our mistake. Maybe we lied to our spouse, or failed our children/parents - maybe we’ve broken a promise - or like Peter, maybe we denied our Lord - by our words and/or our actions.
And because of those mistakes... we can’t seem to move forward. Our failures have become obstacles we can’t seems to overcome.
The fact is: Jesus had every right to say to Peter, “get your act together - and then we’ll talk.” Jesus could have even said, “Grovel Peter - get down on your knees and beg for forgiveness!” He could have even simply asked Peter, “Are you sorry... do you apologize for denying me... do you repent?”
But Jesus did none of that. Jesus met Peter right where he was - and asked Peter, “Do you love me?” That’s all. “Do you love me?”
Christ offered Peter the chance to replace each denial with a declaration of love... and despite the fact the words, “I forgive you” are never spoken... Peter is forgiven, and his relationship with Christ is restored.
Jesus did the same for the woman caught in the act of adultery... do you remember? Jesus dismissed her accusers - then he turned to her - BUT he NEVER asked, “Are you sorry?” Instead, Jesus asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” And when she replied, “No one,” Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you... now go and sin no more.”
And we encounter the same thing in the story of the Prodigal Son... who finally, after squandering everything he’d been given - came to his senses - and returned home to his father - thinking he’d have to grovel... thinking he’d have to earn his way back into his father’s grace. But instead, he was greeted with love... and celebration!
Now don’t get me wrong... I’m not suggesting that confession’s not important. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek out and ask for forgiveness. So long as you and I live in a fallen world... the words of apology are often necessary and certainly invaluable in the process of restoration and forgiveness.
But I am saying this: every act of repentance and forgiveness can’t be verbalized... we can’t always offer spoken forgiveness. But our actions can speak for us.
As we make our way through the ups and downs of this life... we need to do everything in our power to walk in love and understanding and compassion with one another... knowing that our actions will always be more important than our words.
Listen: If you have some unfinished business with Jesus (or another person) - seek restoration... seek forgiveness - confess your failures and weaknesses. But know this: Christ is not waiting on us to make the first move. Christ is actively and intentionally seeking to restore us to himself - time and time again. He’s looking into our hearts right now... and pointing to the future... asking, “Do you love me?” “If so... do the work God gives you... If so, stop making excuses as to why you can’t - and follow me.”
That’s how - at least in this life - the Resurrection becomes real. Amen.