Do You Love Me?
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:17
We have an ongoing discussion in our house about who should take care of the family dog. When we were contemplating getting the dog, our kids promised that they would always walk him, feed him, and bathe him. Those tasks now fall to my wife and I who are the ones who actually provide for our dog’s needs. The thing is, my wife and I don’t have a particularly strong emotional attachment to the dog. We don’t dislike him. He’s a very nice dog, but as of yet, we haven’t fallen in love with him.
The dog though, is quite convinced that my wife and I love him. Though it’s the kids who proclaim their love, from the dog’s point of view, it’s my wife and I who truly love him because we play with him, take him for walks, and provide for all of his needs. Love certainly does involve strong emotions. From the recipient’s point of view however, love is far more than just an emotional attachment.
In today’s passage, Jesus drove this point home to Peter by asking three times if Peter loved him. Each time, Peter answered that yes, he loved Jesus. Every time, Jesus insisted that if Peter loved him, he must feed and care for his sheep (his followers or children). Through repetition, Jesus painted a picture of what love for him looks like.
Peter may have had a strong emotional attachment to Jesus, but when under duress, Peter denied him three times. With Jesus gone, Peter simply went back to fishing. In today’s narrative, Jesus made it abundantly clear to Peter that if he truly loved Christ, he must live out that love through his actions.
If we call ourselves Christians, we’re proclaiming that we love and follow Christ. What does that look like? Is it simply an emotional attachment? Is it just a knowledge in our head? Or, do we truly follow Jesus, obeying his commands to love God and our neighbors? If we truly love, if we’re truly followers of Christ, it will absolutely and radically change how we live.