Sunday, April 18, 2010

God's love, always both a blessing and a responsibility (3rd Sunday of Easter, John 21:1-19)

When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John,
do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him,
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him,
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed
that Jesus had said to him a 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.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
when you were younger, you used to dress yourself
and go where you wanted; but when you grow old,
you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you and lead you
where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death
he would glorify God. And when he had said this,
he said to him, “Follow me.”

* * * * * * * *

This is the last recorded conversation that Jesus had with Peter. It is found in the last chapter of the Gospel of John. In it, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” With each question, Peter answers him yes. And with each reply, Jesus gives Peter a task.

There was a reason for the threefold question Jesus asks Peter. It was three times that Peter denied him, and now it is three times that he gives Peter the chance to affirm his love, to erase his mistake and renew his commitment to his Master.

Jesus, in his gracious forgiveness, gave Peter the chance to wipe out the memory of his threefold denial by a threefold declaration of his love.

It is true that God is a forgiving God, that when we come to him with our mistakes and failures and seek his forgiveness, he isn’t only willing to forgive, he is also willing to wipe the slate clean in order that we may start over anew.

But it is also true that while God forgives our sins, he also expects us to make the most of his forgiveness by living lives of faithfulness and commitment so we can be witnesses to the forgives we have experienced.

This is why Jesus, after having received Peter’s affirmation of his love, gives him the task of feeding and tending his lambs and his sheep. He was in effect telling Peter: “I accept your love. I have forgiven your denials. Now be my witness to others”.

God’s love, forgiveness and acceptance is always both a blessing as well as a responsibility.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)