I suppose it is possible to show that we
love something or someone in many different ways, but one thing is for certain-- love
is indeed an active verb and all our talk about love means nothing if loving
actions are absent.
The backdrop of our Gospel lesson is the very familiar story of Peter's denial of Jesus the night before
our Lord's crucifixion. It was at the Last Supper when Peter confidently
declared that even if all the other disciples sitting at the table deserted
Jesus in his hour of need, he would never. But actions do speak louder than
words and Peter demonstrates that truth a few hours later when Peter denies
Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.
But when we fast forward to some days
after Jesus' resurrection, Peter and some of the other disciples are back up
north at the Sea of Galilee fishing. Can we imagine the guilt Peter must have
felt in those days as he remembered his high sounding words at the Last Supper
and then his cowardly denials in the courtyard of the high priest? Up until this
point it appears as if Peter has had no face-to-face conversation with the
risen Jesus. Perhaps Peter longs for one to explain his actions. Perhaps Peter
knows he needs to have a discussion with Jesus, but is dreading the moment.
There had to be times when Jesus felt as
if his words were falling on sleepy disciples, especially with Peter, whom he
constantly had to remind of what his ministry was about, but now, after his
resurrection, Jesus most definitely has Peter’s attention. Jesus makes the most
After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, "Do
you love me more than these?" That question must have stung, not only because
Peter had insisted at the last supper that he would go to the death for Jesus,
but he also promised that he would be so committed even if those around the
table were not. So, now in the presence of some of those persons at the table,
Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than the same persons he had previously
insulted around the table that evening. In response, Peter insists once again
that he loves Jesus, but this time he will not be so presumptuous to think he
will be more loving than the others.
Can we imagine Peter's dismay when Jesus
asks him the same question again and then a third time? There can be no doubt
that in so doing Jesus reminds Peter of his three-fold denial of Jesus. At the
same time, this exchange becomes liberating for Peter, for Jesus is offering to
Peter in this exchange an opportunity for confession and to reaffirm his
commitment to his Lord.
Moreover, Jesus is offering Peter a
chance to repent, to demonstrate the change in his life and to show, once again
that actions do speak louder than words, but this time, in his commitment to
the kingdom of God. In telling Peter to tend to his flock of believers and by
searching to bring more into the fold, Jesus is challenging Peter to show his
love for his Lord by becoming, once again, someone who fishes for people by
casting the wide net of God's love and grace in this world. In the moment Peter
could verbally express his love for Jesus, but only time would tell if he truly
loved Jesus by his way of life.
Peter's view of success was found in
loud and boisterous pronouncements about what he would do when no one else
would. But what Jesus was attempting to re-instill in Peter that day by Lake
Galilee was that love, commitment, generosity, and integrity are revealed first
in foremost, not in what one says, but in how one lives. Peter had proclaimed
his love for Jesus, but then undermined is claim in his denials of Jesus; now
Jesus offers Peter the opportunity once again to affirm his love in his way of
"Do you love me?" asks Jesus. Peter
responds, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." OK, says Jesus, then show
me your love by being about my business in this world.
Actions do speak louder than words.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)