Last week, we were presented with the figure of St. Thomas as a model of someone who sought Truth through doubt and came to faith in Jesus, professing Him “my Lord and my God.” This weekend, we turn to the person of St. Peter – a man with whose faults we are all familiar.
Peter had a way of opening his mouth and letting all sorts of proclamations come forth – some great, some not so much. He was the one who confessed that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God”; he was also the one who tried to keep Jesus from encountering His destiny in Jerusalem – which earned him a rebuke wherein Jesus called him “Satan.” Peter was bold, impetuous, weak – human.
We should still be very aware of the fact that, only a short time ago, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus in order to save himself. This man, whom we recognize as our first pope, couldn’t even claim Jesus as a friend or acquaintance. Now, we find him along the sea with that same Jesus – risen – talking about love.
If Thomas had something to teach us about doubt, Truth, and faith, then what does this conversation with Peter have to tell us as we sit here in church? Simon Peter is here today to teach us about forgiveness, courage, and Love.
Remember that Jesus’ first gift to His brothers in that upper room on Easter evening was “Peace.” Before any of the Apostles could say a word – as they stared, amazed, still stinging from their own failures to remain with Jesus, still ashamed of what they had done or not done – Jesus lets them know that He still loves them and that they are forgiven. This gift of peace is for all of us, and it is the fruit of the mercy of God – most perfectly shown in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. We are forgiven.
Today, Peter has an opportunity to fully appreciate this forgiveness as Jesus takes him aside again and chats with him as a friend. He knows what he did during Jesus’ trial – even when he had said that he would remain faithful, even if no one else did. Peter denied knowing Christ – not to some threatening guard or before a tribunal or even the Devil himself. Rather, Peter cowered before the questions of a servant girl! How ordinary! How weak.
But isn’t that our difficulty as well? We imagine that in front of a heathen crowd we would be able to confess ourselves as Christians. We are certain that if the Devil stood before us we would side with Christ above all others. But our weakness is not that dramatic. What about when our faith is questioned by a coworker? A girlfriend? A teacher? A neighbor? Do we shrug it off and minimize our trust in Jesus and our love of Him? “You don’t really believe that, do you?
Faith is truly tested in the ordinary opportunities of witness. Peter learned this, and now Jesus is teaching him again. Three times he had denied Jesus; and three times Jesus asks for a profession of Love. “Do you Love Me?”
Jesus uses a special word for this Love: agape. It means a self-giving Love – love that is translated as “charity” and is more than just a sentiment. It is active and it is outgoing. Peter responds with a different word for love: philia – which is more of a “buddy love” – the kind of love that makes a bromance so special. “Yeah, Jesus. You know it do.” It’s the sort of response an awkward boyfriend returns when a girl says she loves him for the first time.
Twice Jesus asks Peter for this Love – this agape – and twice he answers with the bromance line. So the third time Jesus brings it to Peter’s level: "Do you love Me?” Peter is a little hurt, but he is also realistic. No more grand claims right now for St. Peter. He can grow in this love; and Jesus knows it. He will offer himself out of Love of Christ, as Jesus foretells. But for now, the bromance will do, because this bromance is real.
Peter truly loves Jesus, and Jesus knows this. Is this where we are? Do we really love Jesus – as a friend? As a real Person? As a part of our lives that we cannot avoid? This is more than clicking “Like” on a Facebook picture of the Sacred Heart – “Share if you love Jesus; ignore if not.” No, this is real life and this is Real Jesus. He asks us as He did Peter: Are you ready to give yourself completely to and for Me?
The proof is in how we care for one another. How do we “feed [Jesus’] lambs”? Care for one another is the hallmark of the Christian community, and it gets noticed. People will ask questions about what it means and why you do it. These questions are echoes of Jesus’ “Do you Love Me?”
Can we embrace the opportunity? Knowing that we are forgiven, can we rise up with courage and profess our Love? Peter did; so can we.