(image courtesy of youtube)
The last recorded conversation involving Jesus in John’s gospel (John 21:15-23) is an interesting one (as if the Savior of the world could say anything uninteresting!).
For context, the disciples have just encountered the resurrected Jesus for the third time. They had been out fishing all night without catching any when Jesus, from the shore, tells them to drop their nets one more time. They do and then have trouble hauling in the large catch. This group of seven disciples then come to shore and have breakfast with Jesus. It is after this meal that Jesus and Peter have the conversation noted above.
For the record, I do not believe Jesus had an ox-eyed daisy (Wikipedia claims this is the flower traditionally used in the He loves me, he loves me not game) in His hands as he questioned Peter about loving Him. I do think, however, that asking Peter three times whether he loved the Lord was in direct correlation to the three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus on the night He was arrested.
We can surmise the importance of this conversation in the way Jesus addressed Peter before asking these questions. Verses 15, 16 and 17 each have Jesus addressing Peter (the name Jesus had given him) as “Simon, son of John.” This remains me of my parents calling me by Charles Kenneth when they really wanted my attention.
Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. The wording of each is slightly different and biblical commentators have done much study on this topic. As interesting as that is, I simply would like to look at these three questions putting our own name in place of Simon son of John.
I’ll go first: “Charles Kenneth, do you truly love me more than these?” Jesus asks. “These what?” I would probably be thinking. Like it was to Peter, this question could have to do with either ‘others’ who profess to love the Lord or, the things of life that I use, do and enjoy. For Peter this would have been his life as a fisherman and all the gear that went with it.
This is not a question to brush off quickly. Though I can never truly know the hearts of others with regard to their love of the Lord, I can certainly keep watch on my own. The other possible target of this question might be even more difficult to honestly respond to. There are things in this life that I do deeply love. But do they replace Jesus as my first love? He already knows the answer, I would be wise to consider my response carefully.
Jesus then asks, “Charles Kenneth, do you truly love me?” Thinking about this, I come to a better understanding of how difficult it must have been for Peter to hear it. After all, he had been a devoted follower of Jesus for over three years. He had given up the life he knew to go ‘all-in’ with the Lord. And yet, we know that Peter denied knowing Jesus on the night of the Lord’s arrest. Hence the question: “Do you truly love me?” As I apply it to myself, I see similarities. I have followed Jesus for a period of years, through mistakes and misspoken words, trying my best to be worthy of the name Christian. But the question the Lord poses is penetrating. It goes through all the ‘stuff’ I do and taps on my heart. My answer is “Yes Lord, I truly love you.” But I am left with the on-going struggle to some degree of revealing and expressing the depth of that love.
Jesus then asks a final time, “Charles Kenneth, do you love me?” Again like Peter, a part of me wants to be hurt that I have to be asked a third time. I must push past this fleshly response so that I can simply stand before the One that is asking. This third question, in my opinion, is the one that the Lord wants me to take with me everywhere I go and in everything I do. It is the filter through which I am to run every thought and action: Is this demonstrating to the Lord and to everyone else that I do indeed love Him?
Thankfully, I do not believe the Lord is expecting perfection out of me. He knows my weaknesses and blind spots. This not to say I am to hide behind these as excuses for unloving thoughts and behaviors. Rather, as I honestly admit and confront these things, I can ask my Savior to strengthen me so that my faith does reflect and display more love toward Him and others.
Most importantly, as the children’s song says, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” No ox-eyed daisy is needed to tell me that!
Blessings to you and thanks for reading,