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 of it.
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 life.
"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)