Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Do you love me?

   I love the statue by the Sea of Galilee at The Primacy of Peter, a church built over a flat stone, allegedly the table where Jesus served breakfast to his disciples (John 21). This story has so many riveting details. Jesus cooking breakfast? Eating fish together? The fishing: notice in the Gospels the disciples never catch any fish without Jesus’ help!

The haunting conversation between Peter and Jesus is memorable, and cuts to the heart of what adherence to the risen Christ is all about. Jesus doesn’t ask him Are you doing what I told you to do? or Have you been good? Jesus wants to know from him and from us, Do you love me? Mary Magdalene’s plaintive puzzlement in Jesus Christ Superstar, “I don’t know how to love him,” is a fair starting point. What does this peculiar love feel like? Or look like? By the time Jesus parts from Peter, he has told him and us how.

But the question itself: I love the moment in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye surprises his wife Golde by asking “Do you love me?” Her reply? “Do I what? With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town, you’re upset, you’re worn out, maybe it’s indigestion. Do I love you? For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow – After 25 years, why talk about love now?”

Without oversimplifying, church folks (and clergy) might hear themselves responding to Jesus’ query by saying For years I’ve read your book, sat in your pew, given money, tried to be nice, volunteered at the shelter, gone to seminary…  But do you love me?

Of course, the simple fact that Jesus asks him not once or four times but three shows Jesus’ tender care, providing Peter with redemption for the three denials just a couple of nights earlier.

The shape of this love is explained to Peter, and it has to do with giving up independence, and private dreams, and then being led. It’s not about doing what you want, or doing what you want to do for God, for doing what God wants you to do. “Feed my sheep.” It’s a charter for the Church: we love Jesus, and not as an afterthought, or if we get around to it or feel like, but necessarily, we feed Jesus’ sheep. Church matters if and when we together gravitate toward love for Jesus and for his people in need.

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