“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15)
We are in the season of love. Valentines Day is just days away. We are all out trying to find the perfect card, the perfect gift, or the perfect flowers and restaurant to tell the one who most deeply holds our heart, “I Love You!” Pressure is put on us, partially through marketing and the greeting card industry, as well as florists and restaurants, to plan the perfect evening for our one true love. Some, especially those who are younger, may even be wondering if a certain love of their life has the same feelings for them in return. They will spend the next few days trying to determine how to declare their love in a way that it will be reciprocated. But while our actions on Wednesday, or lack of actions, may reveal to some extent whether we love another, our actions won’t be able to answer the question Jesus posses to us through the story recorded in John.
Do you love me more than these?
It’s not exactly clear what Jesus is talking about here, who are the these? Fishing? Friends? Peter’s previous denials?…
The story occurs after the resurrection, and all of life has been placed into turmoil. The disciples are probably not sure exactly which way is up, and which way is down. All that they thought they knew about the world, and about the Messiah, has been thrown into flux. Death has a way of doing that. But even more so, resurrection has a way of doing that. Was Jesus the Messiah, or was he not? Was Jesus setting up a kingdom on earth, or was he not? Were the disciples still called to follow, or should they give up?
Peter doesn’t know what to do, and as his world is in flux he goes back to the one thing that makes sense, he goes fishing. Just like most of us try to find some sense of balance, some truth we can rely upon when our world is in disorder, Peter looks for something that he knows he can be sure about. Peter’s sure foundation is fishing; it’s what he’s always known.
The problem is, Peter doesn’t catch anything. He fishes all night long and catches nothing. (This seems to be a trend for Peter when it comes to fishing stories in the gospel accounts.) Soon, a stranger shows up on the shore, both taunting and challenging. Have you caught anything? Try the other side of the boat! As soon as they lower the nets, they start to catch fish.
Peter’s equilibrium gets reestablished. No longer does he need to go fishing to find security. Jesus is security, and Jesus has returned. Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to shore because his only desire is to be with Jesus. Peter is declaring his love, or so he believes. Surely Peter is completely devoted to Jesus since he’s willing to jump out of the boat and follow, just like he did three years before.
But Jesus is not convinced. Perhaps there is still something holding Peter back. So Jesus asks again, Peter, do you love me more than these? Peter thinks he’s proven his love, but Jesus continues to ask, not just once but three times. Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than these? With each question Jesus peels back the layers of Peter’s facade trying to determine the truth. Peter, do you really love me?
Perhaps it’s best that we don’t know who the these are, because it allows us to hear the question as well. If the these are mentioned than we deal with the these, whatever they are, and we quickly decide whether that’s a problem for us, and if not we discard the question. If the these is fishing, of course we love Jesus more than fishing. If the these is Peter’s denial, well then it’s just Peter’s problem to deal with. But by staying open-ended, we, like Peter, have to deal with the question.
Do you love me more than these? Are there things getting in the way of our undivided love for Jesus? Is there something holding us back? Do you love me more than your family? Your reputation? Your position at work or in society? Your possessions? Your money? Your pride? Do you love me more than your desire to do things your own way? Do you love me more than whatever is convincing you not to be completely committed to God?
We think we’re all in, but Jesus keeps asking, pealing back every layer, to make sure we are completely devoted to God; that we are completely in love.
Do you love me more than these?