On Friday I had a conversation with a friend about aging and the unexpected shifts in relationships that are occasioned by the fact that people are living longer now. It was one of those times when we could have said, “If I knew then what I know now…” as we mused on the choices that life had presented us. As it was not a deeply serious exchange, however, we were rather commenting on the idiosyncrasies that we notice both in ourselves and in our loved ones that didn’t appear (or weren’t there!) earlier in our lives. Our conclusion was that love covers a multitude and we’re both lucky to have people who love us!
Today’s gospel offers two choices for reflection on the same text that I mentioned yesterday – the one I like to call “breakfast on the beach.” Presiders may take chapter 21 of John to verse 19 or, if this seems too long a story for the faithful, may stop at verse 14 when breakfast is served. I find it unfortunate for that to happen if the only hearing of this tract is in church this morning because verses 15 to 19 tell of Jesus asking Peter three times if Peter loves him. I can imagine myself as Peter in that situation wondering first why Jesus was asking at all but then remembering the horrific story of my denial on the evening of his arrest. By the time he got to the third repetition, however, I would probably be frustrated and wondering why he was humiliating me that way since it was not at all like him!
What point was Jesus trying to make in that moment? Precisely, I think, that we do not know what is to come later in life and occasionally we do need to assess what has been happening and recommit to whatever the future may bring to us. I feel Jesus as very tender in that moment, loving Peter more than he could ask or imagine and wanting Peter to know how special he was. The charge he gives him (“Feed my lambs; feed my sheep”) is not an easy destiny. Peter, the impulsive one who loved so much, would need to remember this moment in the most dangerous and difficult situations in the future. And he would prove himself equal to the task.
Perhaps today is a day to hear that question of Jesus: “Lois, do you love me?” (not just once but three times for emphasis). Looking back and looking forward, may we all echo Peter who said with total certainty, “Yes, Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” And in that answer, may we again walk confidently into life.