Do You Love Me?

last rose of summer   When I think about the scene between Jesus and Peter when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, I am reminded of this story:

There was a first grade teacher who was trying to get the attention of a few the little boys in her class who were not paying attention in class. Most had settled down when she asked them to so. They quieted down and watched as she wrote the next few letters of the alphabet they were learning that day. But there was one child in particular who just couldn’t settle down to the lessons. In a final attempt to get him to pay attention, she went to him, gently took his face in her hands and repeated what she had said to the others in a very pointed and personal way. It was a gentle scolding meant to get his sights solely on her and what she was saying to him. It worked.

Then she turned back to writing on the blackboard. Suddenly she felt a tug on her skirt. As she turned around and looked down, there stood another little boy gazing up at her. What is it? she asked him. e He replied, talk to me like that.

The second little boy had seen the teacher show what we might call ‘touch love’ to his classmate and he wanted someone to talk to him like that as well.

Peter is like those little boys who act first and think later. And Jesus is trying to get his attention. Trying to get him to look at him and know what he is saying to him. Understand what he is asking of him. Peter is all ‘sure’, ‘of course’, ‘you know I do’. But it takes him being asked three times by Jesus if he loves him for Peter to get the full weight of what Jesus is asking. It is as if Jesus has Peter’s face in his hands and very badly wants him to bring his entire self and his complete attention to Jesus.

And I think that one of the lessons here is that what Jesus asks above all else is for us to love him. It is a more important question than who do you say that I am? Knowing (fully) who Jesus is isn’t fully comprehended by the disciples before Easter (nor us after Easter). And after Easter it would seem that this questions falls away as he shows himself to his disciples, friends and family as a living presence.  It seems important for Jesus to be with them and show them that he is indeed real. That his return to life is about his abiding love for those he had been given (and we are those he has been given as well) and what he asks in the final analysis, in one of his final moments on earth, is that we, like Peter, understand the significance of the question. So her repeats it. Perhaps we do not have to know him fully or even understand everything he said and did. For if we can answer ‘Yes, Lord, I love you.’ He has heard all that he needs to hear from us.

Perhaps he asks the question of us many times in our lives, like he did Peter. When we have become distracted, fearful, worried, confused. He calls our attention back to the only lesson we need to learn, the only thing we need to know, when he asks do you love me?


Didn’t our hearts burn within us…?

 footprints  One of my favorite Easter stories comes at the end of Luke’s gospel. The road to Emmaus.  As Luke tells it, Peter has just gone home after he looked in the tomb. Although Peter is amazed, he goes back home. Apparently, Peter is not very curious about Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb. So Jesus has to go out to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and wait for Peter to recognize him as he stands over a charcoal fire, on shore, waiting for Peter to recognize him.

The scene then shifts to the disciples walking along a road talking, disheartened, about all that has happened in their very long Passover weekend. Unlike Peter, they are apparently rehearsing what had taken place and trying to figure out what had happened, what the meaning of the empty tomb could be.

Suddenly there is someone else walking with them. They do not at first recognize Jesus. Jesus asks them what they are talking about. Discussing is the word used, and it implies more than just a casual conversation. The disciples are a bit taken aback by Jesus’ question. Could this man be the only person who does not know the things that have taken place in Jerusalem in the past few days? What things Jesus asks.

Cleopas tells him about Jesus of Nazareth and briefly retells the whole gospel story of Jesus’ life and death. Then Jesus chides them for not understanding what had taken place. It was part of the plan from the outset. Then Jesus begins to depart, but they invite him to stay with them. It is only when they are at the meal with him, and he says the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to them, that they recognize Jesus. Then as suddenly as he had come, he is gone.

Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he explained the scriptures to us? I would have loved to be privy to this conversation, when Jesus enlightens them. Didn’t our hearts burn within us is such a poetic and meaning-laden way of expressing their feelings as their rabboni reveals what he has been teaching them all along. It is one more example of the great love his disciples have for Jesus. For even as this stranger speaks something within them stirs to that understanding. Responds to the voice if not the face of the Man telling them what the scriptures mean…about him and what his life means.

It is telling here that Jesus has come to his followers whereever they are. On the road, he is there. In a harrowing change to their lives, puzzling over life events, he is here. In a boat out to sea, trying to make a living to no avail, he is waiting; he is there. Crying in a garden, he is there. Bereft and lonely, scared and frightened, he is there. Where they are, wherever we are, he is there. Perhaps we are a lot like his disciples. It takes us a while to get it. To get him. To not only understand – understanding takes us only so far- but to see, to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives, as he walks and waits, comes to our tables, blesses us and our meals, tending the flock or readying to care for a friend believed gone from this world, he is there. Sometimes we just have to look up or to turn around or scan the horizon to find him there.




Feed My Lambs


  shepherd   Now we have seen Peter twice after the Resurrection. Once where he runs ahead of the others to the empty tomb. The next is when he literally casts himself from the fishing boat into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore of Tiberias. In both instances Peter hurries ahead of the others, unafraid to get to get to Jesus and see him up close. Perhaps his joy and eagerness to see Jesus is because there is something he sorely needs to say to Jesus.

The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was share a meal with them. The first thing he does after the Resurrection is also to share a meal with them. A meal of fish and bread. Echoes of the loaves and fishes. A sacred symmetry meant to evoke their memories. A chance to talk, to catch up, or simply to be in his startling presence. To remember what he had said to them and suddenly realize the significance of all he did and all he said. The significance of his life. And now the significance of their lives, especially Peter’s.

After the meal Jesus takes Peter aside. He wants to ask him a question. He has a job for Peter to do. Commentaries and sermons on this scene often focus on the three questions ‘do you love me?’ as the way in which Peter redeems himself from the thrice denial of knowing Jesus during the trial. What I find wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was before and now, is that he doesn’t chide Peter, he doesn’t even bring the denials up. He doesn’t condemn Peter as a sinner. He doesn’t go right for the sin. He goes right for the very heart of Peter. He goes to the man he knows Peter to be, in all his exuberance; impetuous, skeptical, self-protective and, yes, a man scared of death. He knows what that feeling felt like.

Why does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him, if, as Peter insists, Jesus already knows Peter loves him? And Jesus knows he does. Perhaps because Peter needs to hear himself say the words. Perhaps because Jesus also knows the doubt that may still be lingering with him, especially his own self-doubt and self-condemnation.  For no one is more aware of Peter’s sorrow and shame than Peter. In repeating that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a chance to not only forgive himself, but also to focus on what is really important to Him.

With each affirmation of his love for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is asking this fisherman to become a shepherd. The catch is in. A shepherd to those lambs-innocent followers of his who are going to be in need of protection from the wolves still prowling about waiting to snatch them away from the greener pastures of Jesus’ fellowship. His sheep-the inner circle of those more seasoned in following Jesus, his disciples. Look after them. Clearly Jesus is concerned for them. Wants them to be taken care of. Wants them to safe. And yet….

Jesus is evoking the image of past shepherds of Israel, like Joseph, who saved his family and all of Egypt from starving to death when the famine came. Who led them to safer pastures. (At least for a few hundred years.) Of the lowly shepherd boy who slay the Goliath waiting to devour his people and led them to a kingdom where he would be their first king. The old kingdom was gone. The new kingdom would need another kind of shepherding. Surely Jesus knew it would take all the shepherding qualities, to feed, to ensure well-being, to be ever watchful, to make sure that none get lost, that all have safe pasturing. Peter is making his pledge and promise, a pledge and promise because he loves Jesus.

After Jesus tells Peter the cost, he simply repeats the first words he ever said to him. Follow me.


Gardener of our Souls

 daffodils    Before Jesus appears on the shore of Tiberias he appears to Mary of Magdala in the garden. This is one of my favorite Easter stories. Mark identifies this Mary as the one from whom Jesus cast out seven devils. ‘Casting out devils’ is a phrase in the scriptures meaning a healing took place. In the ancient world illnesses were thought to be the result of some demonic force. The number seven in the scriptures repeatedly refers to something sacred, someone made whole. Whatever this meant it was powerful enough to cause Mary to become his most faithful follower and the first person to whom he appears after he is risen.

It is Mary alone who has the courage to go in the dark to the tomb in search of Jesus. Finding the stone rolled away she goes back to tell the others. It is Peter again who sets off running to the garden to see for himself. The disciples look inside and when they see that Jesus is not there, they finally understand what Jesus had said to them about his rising from the dead. Then they go home.

But Mary stays. She is still distraught and is crying. When the angels sitting where Jesus had been ask her why she is crying, she tells them Jesus has been taken away and she doesn’t know where to find him. But then something makes her turn around. And there is Jesus standing before her. She thinks he is the gardener. The he speaks her name. Mary. She only has to hear his voice to know it is Jesus. This is such a tender moment. And such a real moment. I hear in this moment how much she loved him and that he loved her and cared for her deeply.

The others hadn’t seen him in the garden. Perhaps when he knew she was looking for him he came to her. But he would not let her ‘cling’ to him. For surely this is what he knew she wanted to do. Instead he told her to go and tell the others what she had seen, and what he had said to her. And she did.

Where do we look for him? Do we hear or read the gospel message and then just go or stay home? Perhaps the invitation to become whole, to rise up with him, and the love he empowers within us, might cause us to go out and tell others, like Paul did, about the power of his resurrection. That love has overcome hate. That life has overcome death. That his presence and love is a more powerful force than all the daemons that threaten our good life.

It would not be a mistake for us to think of Jesus as the gardener of our souls. That the first encounter after the resurrection took place in a garden. It was in a garden that life began. And now in a garden that new life became possible. That we have been seeded with his life. That when we seek him, he brings that seed to life out of the dark tomb of our souls, into the light, to flower, to become whole. To see the sacred life he brings to us. For some of his disciples, including John, after they saw the empty tomb they went home. It was enough for them to merely understand. They did not remain. They did not look for him. Perhaps they were still afraid. In Mark’s account the women who came that day left in fear as well and told no one. But in John’s gospel it was Mary who remained, who searched for him, whose love for him caused him to come to her. So perhaps knowledge and understanding are not enough. Perhaps it is love that brings his presence, that brings the life and love of Jesus to us. The disciples now understood but it was Mary who would see him more clearly and love him more dearly.

Jesus Waits


One of the last images of Jesus before his arrest is of him bending down to wash the feet of his disciples. One of the first images of Jesus after his resurrection is of him standing on the shore while his disciples are out in a boat fishing. He stands on the shore, waiting. He throws out a question to them across the water.  Have you caught anything, friends.  No, they hadn’t. So he tells them where to throw out their nets and they catch more fish than they could haul. He calls them friends. Some of them are the same friends whose feet he washed just a few days ago. But somehow he is different. They do not recognize him yet.

But then John, the disciple Jesus loved, does recognize him. He tells Peter it is their Lord. With this the ever passionate and exuberant Peter wraps his cloak around him, jumps out of the boat, slogging through the water, rushing to the shore where Jesus waits. There is something about this action of Peter that is so touching. It is so human. Peter who had been afraid to even admit he knew Jesus during his arrest and trial, now is so overcome with joy that he jumps out of the boat, into the water, in order to get to the shore where Jesus waits. Jesus will soon give Peter a chance to redeem himself. The others remain in the boat, perhaps taking it all in, incredulous, making sure the boat and their catch gets to the shore. They all in their own way bring themselves to Jesus. To meet him as he is, transformed and yet capable of building a fire and cooking fish, once again breaking bread with those who were his own in the world. Those who now understood and are given this very ordinary extraordinary moment of a simple breakfast with the risen Lords. Another meal where Jesus once again serves them. Another meal that is very different from the last they had together.

Jesus cooks them breakfast! Come, he says and invites them to eat.  He serves them bread and fish. Such a simple, ordinary thing to do after such extraordinary events of the past three days. Much is made of Jesus coming back in glory. But this is not the story John tells. It is the story of a man restored to life by the one he called Father who goes to those he loved and lived with in the world and meets them where they are. Working at their trade, fishing, walking on a road, searching for him in a garden and even those hiding in an upper room.

Jesus stands on the shore of our lives, calling us to himself, to be with him in the most ordinary of ways, meeting us where we are, pointing the way to a life of abundance. The abundance of our lives transformed by the Lord into that which will nourish and sustain us as we go about the business of our lives.