Monday, June 29, 2015

June 29, 2015 Monday: Apostles Peter and Paul

June 29, 2015 Monday: Apostles Peter and Paul

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21:15). Peter had long stopped expecting Jesus to speak to him personally, and if he expected anything, it was a reprimand or correction. He would never have imagined that the Risen One would simply ask him if he loved him. He had prepared to respond to a severe correction; he had prepared to ask for mercy, weeping, admitting that he was a sinner, vile, the last of all . . . “Do you love me?” and again, “more than these”, “more than these”, meaning more than John, who had followed him all the way to the foot of the cross? But what struck Simon was not only the Lord’s question but the tone in which he asked it. Jesus was not testing him; this was not a trial. Jesus was begging for his love, begging for what he needed.

Peter was there, in the midst of his companions, but now everything was taking place between himself and Jesus, as it did in the courtyard of the high priest. Simon was alone before Jesus, who was in need of his love. He didn’t need a sword to free him from the guard who was holding him or from the Jews or the Romans who wanted to take his life. Jesus needed love, his love. “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus added, not as a question, but as a simple statement: “Feed my lambs.”

There was silence. Peter could have started talking about something else, anything else, just to extend the pleasure of being there together. But Jesus continued to look at Peter, and Peter did not lower his eyes, because he had just told Jesus that he loved him, and because Jesus, with his thirst for love, could not be feared.

Peter heard his name spoken a second time, and he recoiled again. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:16). Had he not said the right thing? Or had he not been sincere? Had he not said the right thing? Or had he not been sincere? Didn’t Jesus believe that he loved him? Peter repeated the question to himself: Do I really love him? But what does it mean to love Jesus? How can I pretend to love him? How can I believe that Jesus needs my love? He looked into the Lord’s eyes. It was as if the Lord’s expression was giving the right shape to the raw material of what he wanted to say. Peter repeated, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And once again, in the same tone, Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

Jesus looked out toward the open lake, and Peter did the same. The sun had already risen, and the rippling water sparkled under its warm light. Peter was admiring the view when he heard Jesus say his name again and, turning quickly, saw that he was already looking at him. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:17). This time, Peter found an explanation for this threefold repetition of the question: I denied him three times, so he asks me three times if I love him. Does he not believe me? Can I still say anything about myself or about Jesus after I swore three times that I didn’t know him? But if he does not believe me, if he cannot believe me anymore, why tell me to feed his flock?

With tears in his eyes, with a voice like that of a child who is about to break out sobbing, Simon said so loudly that he almost scared himself, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” And once again, once and for all, before he had even finished answering, Peter saw with certainty that Jesus believed in his love, that he had believed in this from the first answer, that he had always believed it, since their first encounter on this same shore. Only now, only at this moment, after living with him for three years, after seeing him suffer and after he had died following Peter’s denial and abandonment, only now was Peter discovering that Jesus needed his love, that Jesus, the Son of God who had conquered death, was thirsty for his love. “Feed my sheep”, Jesus repeated, and Peter understood that this task was connected to the question that the Lord had asked him. Peter had only one mission left in life: that of loving Jesus Christ, of responding to his thirst for love, and of responding to this as the sinner that he was, as miserable as he was. It was as if Jesus was telling him, “You can deny me a thousand times, you can deny me your whole life, but never forget to love me, never deprive me of your love!”

A gentle breeze started blowing the scent of the lake toward them. The coals in the fire Jesus had lit began glowing again. The other disciples were happy, as if Jesus had spoken with each one of them. Jesus lightly touched Simon’s arm and said, “Follow me!” But all Peter could hear was, “Do you love me?”

"Simon Called Peter: In the Footsteps of a Man Following God," by Dom Mauro Giuseppe Lepori