Do You Really Love Me?
(John 21: 15-25)
Back when I was with the Houston Police Department I was a Field Training Officer, or FTO as we referred to ourselves. It was our job to train rookie police officers fresh out of the Police Academy how to apply what they had learned in police school to the real-life situations on the street. In a way, they were kind of like the disciples. The disciples were all Jewish men and had been taught the basics of Judaism. They were now following Jesus, watching and learning. Like a rookie police officer, they made mistakes along the way and Jesus would take the time to correct them or explain to them the point he was trying to make. Jesus wanted them to trust him and follow him. He wanted them to know he wasn’t going to make them do anything he, himself, wasn’t willing to do. He wanted them to understand the how and the why. There were several times when my rookies didn’t follow me and, fortunately for me, it didn’t end badly. Once, I jumped out on a dope deal we had rolled up on and got in a foot pursuit with the illicit retailer. My rookie didn’t follow me as I chased the suspect through four lanes of heavy traffic, over fences and through backyards. When I got back my rookie was gone and my police car had been vandalized. Another time, a different rookie and I pulled over a car for a traffic violation that was occupied by four individuals. When we realized the car was stolen the driver bolted into the darkness with me hot on his heels. My rookie didn’t follow me and the suspect outran me. When I got back to where we had stopped the car, it was empty, and my police car and rookie were nowhere to be found. A third time, me and a different rookie tried to stop a car for a minor traffic offense. After a short chase the drunk driver bailed out with me right behind him yelling for him to stop. He ran out of breath before I did and when we got back to my police car my rookie was still sitting in the passenger seat. Another unit had checked by and had to turn the siren off. It was pretty frustrating because sooner or later, these rookies were going to be out there on their own trying to do a difficult life or death job. I imagine it was frustrating for Jesus too as he was trying to impress upon his disciples the importance of the job he was going to give them before he moved on.
This is where we find ourselves in our scripture lesson for today. Jesus had just appeared to seven of the disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. They hadn’t caught any fish when Jesus called out to them. He instructed them to throw their net on the other side of the boat where they ended up catching a large number of fish, 153 in all. When they got to shore, Jesus already had a bed of coals prepared for them to cook breakfast. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples after his resurrection.
When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? Simon replied, Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my lambs. Jesus asked a second time, Simon son of John, do you love me? Simon replied, Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Jesus said to him, Take care of my sheep. He asked a third time, Simon son of John, do you love me? Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, Lord, you know everything; you know I love you. Jesus said to him, Feed my sheep.
Jesus was leading Peter through an experience that would remove the cloud of his denial. You had to believe that Peter’s three denials of Christ in one night was always in the back of his mind. He felt ashamed at denying Jesus and letting him down. His self-worth and confidence was shaken and he probably even questioned himself as to whether he was the right man for the job.
Peter had repented, and here Jesus was asking him to commit his life. It’s one thing to say your love Jesus, but the real test is the willingness to serve him. Peter’s life changed when he finally realized who Jesus was. To be fair, it was a lot to process. He went from being a fisherman to an evangelist. He went from being impetuous to being a rock. Jesus is telling him that he is leaving him in charge of feeding and taking care of the flock. This is a reaffirmation of what Jesus had told Peter not long after his ministry began. It was in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew where Jesus was asking his disciples what people were saying about him. He asked the disciples who they thought he was to which Peter replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus replied, Happy are you because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. Like a rooking police officer, Peter is nearing the end of his probationary period and is almost ready to go out on his own.
But he’s not quite there. He’s still thinking small. He’s not satisfied with what he has to do. He wants to know what John is going to do. I don’t know if there is any jealously there but John is always referred to as the one whom Jesus loved. If not jealously, there certainly was some competition. Remember, it was in the 24th chapter of Luke where we learned about an argument that had broken out amongst the disciples over which one of them would be regarded as the greatest and Jesus had to call them down and put them in their places telling them that they would have to be as servants. Peter asked Jesus how John would die and Jesus responded that he should not concern himself with that and what difference does it make to him anyway? Jesus said, You must follow me. Peter’s question shows his human side. We tend to compare our lives to others, whether to rationalize our own level of devotion to Christ or to question God’s justice. Jesus responds to us as he did to Peter: What is that to you? You must follow me.
Despite what Peter’s future held, Jesus told him to follow him. We may be uncertain and fearful about our future. But if we know God is in control, we can confidently follow Christ. To speculate about the future is not the disciple’s task; it is only to follow Jesus. If you had a one-on-one with Jesus and he asked you: Do you truly love me? Do you really love me? Are you even my friend? How would you respond?
Expressing love for Christ implies accepting a duty to do the work of God and to be faithful. It’s like being that young police officer, excited about going to work every day, not knowing what lies around the next corner, but having that knowledge and faith that God is in control and that as long as you are willing to serve him only, everything will work out according to God’s plan.
Please pray with me.
God of love and mercy, yes, we do love you. We really, really love you. By your gentle hand and patience, we try as best we can to do your work and your will. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, show us the way and give us the means to feed your lambs and take care of your sheep. Give us the strength and commitment of Peter to be as solid as a rock as we endeavor to establish your church here in our community. Give us the focus to concentrate on the task at hand and not worry about what someone else is doing. Instill in us that excitement that when we wake every morning we know new opportunities abound for us to meet the needs of the least, the last and the lost. In the name of your most loving son, Jesus Christ, we pray, amen.