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you love me?
If I had been the savior of the world, and I had loved and served everyone
and announced the good news of God’s reign of love and peace, but
then was betrayed, denied, abandoned, arrested, condemned, tortured, and
executed, I don’t think I would want to rise and come back from
the dead, and meet those people again, and if I did, I would probably
have been mad and angry and resentful and said, “Why did you let
that happen to me? Why didn’t you protect me? Why did you abandon
But Jesus does nothing like that. Jesus is completely different from us.
He is perfectly nonviolent, peaceful, forgiving, merciful and loving.
He doesn’t get mad. He’s not angry. He doesn’t yell
at us or hold a grudge or make us feel guilty or seem resentful. What
does he do? He makes breakfast for his friends! He goes from the Last
Supper to the First Breakfast! This Gospel offers one of the most beautiful
images in the entire scriptures, and I invite you to think about it, to
ponder it, to imagine Jesus standing on the shore, early in the morning,
by the Sea of Galilee, as the sun is rising, making breakfast. For me,
that’s what heaven will be like. Having breakfast with Jesus and
friends in the morning by the sea.
Simon Peter had just denied knowing Jesus three times, and here, Jesus
gives Simon Peter three chances to make up for those three denials. He
asks him three times, “Do you love me?” This is the only place
in the Gospels where Jesus repeats a question. We spend our whole lives
wondering, “Does God love me?” But we’ve got it all
wrong. Yes, God loves each one of us. God just wants to be with us, to
make breakfast for us, to enjoy us. But God is the one with a question.
The gentle, risen, vulnerable Jesus asks us, “Do you love me? Do
you truly love me?” That is the question we need to hear. He wants
to know if we love him. So how are we going to answer him? We can say
quickly, “Yes, Jesus I love you,” but St. Ignatius advises
that love is shown in deeds, not in words, so we have to show Jesus that
we love him by doing what he says, by putting love into practice, and
as Dorothy Day liked to say, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful
Peter tries to answer Jesus, but as usual he gets it all wrong. In Greek,
there are many different words for love, such as eros, physical love;
or philia, meaning brotherly love between relatives and friends; or agape,
a word which we don’t have in English, which means “unconditional,
unlimited, all-inclusive, sacrificial, nonviolent suffering love for all
people everywhere.” In the original Greek, Jesus asks Simon, “Do
you have agape for me?” Do you have unconditional love for me? Are
you going to lay down your life for me?” Peter says, “Yes,
Lord, I have philia for you. I have brotherly love for you.” He
doesn’t answer the question! So Jesus asks him again, “Do
you have agape for me?” and again Peter says, “Yes, I have
philia for you.” So Jesus asks finally, “Simon, son of John,
do you have agape for me?” And Peter is upset because he is asked
this a third time, and says, “Yes, Lord, you know everything, you
know I have philia for you.” He never gets it. That’s our
problem too. We have philia for Jesus and one another, but not agape.
We show “brotherly” love to some relatives and friends, but
we’re only going to go so far. There are limits and conditions to
Today, Jesus calls us to practice agape toward him and all people, to
let our hearts break open with unconditional, unlimited, all-encompassing,
nonviolent love for all people everywhere--not just for the people we
like, but for all people on the planet, including the people of Fallujah
in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine. We love everyone, and so we refuse
the American government’s killing of anyone. We do not obey the
false love or limited conditional love which American culture upholds.
Our love goes beyond all borders and boundaries. We are now entering the
perfect love of God.
Notice that Jesus still gives Simon Peter a new mission. “Feed my
lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” He wants us to feed and tend
one another and care for one another and serve one another.
Finally, notice also that this is the end of the Gospel of John, and here,
for the first time, Jesus calls Simon Peter to be his disciple. Like Peter,
we may think we have been through alot, we’ve done so much or suffered
so much or tried so hard, that we’ve been good and that we can now
settle into our ways, that we are at the end of the story, but today,
Jesus tells us just as he told Simon Peter, “You are just beginning.
I want you to start following me now. When you were younger you did what
you wanted, but now, someone else will lead you where you don’t
want to go, to the cross. Come, follow me.”
So as we come to the altar to be fed breakfast by Jesus, as he asks us
if we love him, as he calls us to start all over and follow him, we say
"Yes!" and pledge to follow him right into God’s reign
of agape and resurrection.
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