Do you obey whole-heartedly?
PROFESSIONS OF FAITH
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)
We sympathize with Peter, for the question of Jesus, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” This question should have caused great embarrassment to Peter because it was asked thrice. Jesus asks the same question to each one of us, not thrice. It echoes at our every pulse, every heartbeat.
Note: Jesus asked Peter at first time with an addition, “more than these.” This is important to Jesus because Peter was important to Jesus as he was to succeed Jesus.
Jesus never asked anyone else, “Do you love me?” But Jesus will ask Saul later, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) It meant, “Saul, Saul, why do you hate me? I don’t harm you. But, why do you harm me?”
It was not meant to remind Peter of his denial.
It was not meant to make him feel guilty of his denial.
It was not meant to make Peter feel small, that he was not a strong man but a very weak man and an ordinary man.
How could Jesus have intended to hurt Peter while Jesus, after His resurrection, never mentioned Judas’ betrayal? Jesus simply ignored Peter’s past life but looked only at his future.
This is what is happening when Jesus offers his forgiveness. Jesus forgives and forgets our sins. Jesus expects only our firm resolution to follow him dearly and to renew our friendship with him every day, even if we were to fail in our resolutions at the end of the day.
Jesus knew that Peter would deny him. Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. And, Jesus knew that all others would desert him. Yet, Jesus did not desert His apostles; nor did he disown them. Jesus never turned against his apostles. He was always for them.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” These words of Jesus should not be understood as if Jesus was appealing to Peter to love him. No! It was the other way. Jesus offered his love to Peter. Jesus reaffirmed his steadfast love toward Peter. Therefore, it meant, “My love toward you remains the same. Do you remain in my love?” St. Paul explains this in his own words, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:29)
Let us keep in mind that God loves us and he is always with us in our earthly life, only to help us attain eternal life. Then, how much more should we seek God, walk in his ways and strive to remain always in his love?
Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” could be also mean, “Do you follow me? Do you obey me?”
Peter’s love for his Master could not at all be underestimated.
At the Last Supper, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33) At Gethsemane, he also used his sword against his enemies, to safeguard Jesus. (Jn 18:10)
When Jesus foretold his suffering and death, Peter had failed miserably to understand Jesus by saying, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you.” (Mt 16:22)
Peter was like any other football fan or soccer fan or celebrity fan. Like these loyal fans, Peter did not want his Master to lose his life. Also, Peter thought that Jesus was too young to die. Peter wished and wanted his Master to live long.
Peter loved his Master. Peter trusted his Master. But, Peter never understood his Master. The real problem with Peter was that he never wanted to understand his Master.
The death of Jesus, along with his resurrection, opened the eyes of Peter.
The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus made Peter realize his pride, his misunderstanding, his weaknesses and his failures.
The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus helped Peter to accept that Jesus was not only the Son of Man, but also the Son of God.
Through the question, “Do you love me?” Jesus did not expect from Peter an answer with an affirmation or confirmation, “Yes, Lord! I love you.”
Jesus wanted Peter to obey God through his sufferings. The letter to the Hebrews offers us a brief summary of the life of Jesus. “Although Jesus was a Son, He learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
The gospel passage concludes, “Jesus said this signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God.” (John 21:19)
“Do you love me?” means “Do you obey God?” or “Do you obey God as I do?” or “Do you obey God through your sufferings?”
Peter got the message. This is exactly what Peter expressed when he said to the high priest and all those who were at the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
Peter, along with other apostles, left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus’ name. (Acts 5:41)
And, Christian tradition has been upholding the truth that Peter was so happy to accept his execution to death through crucifixion, but then realized his unworthiness to be crucified like his Master. And therefore, he wanted to be crucified upside down.
Are you always conscious of God’s love for you? Do you love God the most Holy Trinity? Do you love Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus with the right understanding or with wrong understanding? Do you make every effort to understand Jesus? Do you love Jesus through your sufferings? Do you obey God whole-heartedly or out of human respect? Do you follow Jesus as Jesus wants you to follow Him, or are you carried away by your own whims and fancies?
Fr. Jayaseelan Amalanathan is from Chennai, South India, now working as the Parochial Vicar for the parishes of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Lewistown and St. Jude church, Mifflintown. Continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ for 30 years, he spent his ministry in India toward the uplift of the most deprived and marginalized people and was awarded in the year 2015, the title of ‘Doctor of Divinity’ (Honoris Causa) by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology and Church Administration.