Jesus and Peter
Richard A. Vurva of Merrillville, Indiana, USA told a story that every year the youngest children in the Trinity Lutheran preschool in Crown Point, Indiana, steal the show at their end-of-the-year program. This year they did the usual waves to parents, mugging and tugging at their clothes. The highlight came when 11 children, none of whom could yet read, proudly held up brightly colored 3-foot-high letters that spelled: DOG LOVES YOU. Actually it was supposed to be read as: GOD LOVES YOU. But if we spell the word ‘Dog’ backward, what we get is God.
We are taught that God is Love (1John 4:16). His love is unconditional, without limit, and everlasting. It’s the beginning and the end; and it’s the essence of Christianity. It draws us to the heart of God and it compels us to give to him our full allegiance and our very lives. What can quench such love? Certainly, they are indifference, disbelief, or rejection of God and his word.
Jesus in today’s gospel asks St. Peter: Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus sees to it that Peter may answer in the affirmative. These triple questions may be a reference to Peter’s triple denial before the passion, as if Christ were giving Peter a chance to make up for his earlier offence. In other words, Jesus is not discouraged of Peter’s betrayal from building His Church on him. This does not mean that Jesus ignores his betrayal. In fact, He is very careful to give Peter a chance to nullify his betrayal with three questions of love and making him more humble. In this sense, God uses even our past sins and mistakes for our own good if we sincerely repent them. The Lord calls us, even in our weakness and sin, to love Him above all else. Adrian van Kaam, a Psychologist, in his book The Dynamics of Spiritual Self-Direction, explains how this all works out. He writes: “God can help us to make the best of the past so that nothing is wasted in our lives. During the years that we were perhaps not yet totally in line with our true self-direction, we have been gathering experience, information and understanding, both of ourselves and of the secular society around us. God used that growing awareness to lead to this point of dissatisfaction and of discernment of new and better possibilities of life. We should show our gratefulness and trust in Him by not lamenting what has been while wasting the possibilities of today and tomorrow. Nobody can change the past as such; everybody can change the impact of the past on the future. Even the negative experiences of the past can help us to prevent similar mistakes in our new life direction,” (pp. 266-267).
After Peter answers these three questions, Jesus also says: ‘Feed my lambs’; ‘tend my sheep’ and ‘feed my sheep.’ In other words, Peter has to journey with each sheep for a lifetime. Fr. Domie Guzman (Sabbath, May 9, 2008) explained this further by saying that: first, Jesus says: “Feed My Lambs.” A lamb is delicate and defenceless and so it has to be fed and cared for like a baby. In other words, like Jesus, we have to guide and stimulate others in their faith, helping them to reach the maturity God wants of them.
Second, Jesus says: “Tend my sheep.” When a lamb becomes a sheep, it can graze for food and so what the shepherd has to do is to tend the sheep and see to it that it does astray from the group. In other words, following Jesus, we have to take care of other people. And through this question, ‘do you love me?’ God presses us for an answer in our day to day living.
Third, Jesus says: “Feed my sheep.” Finally the sheep becomes old and weak and so it must be kept healthy for its remaining years by the loving hands of the shepherd. In other words, we have to follow Him unconditionally.