“Do you love me?”
We all have human failings. What we do in moments of blind terror is not really a true indication of our character, it does not speak of our being good or evil. It is a reaction that is simply part of the human condition. If faced with the terror of an agonizing death I am sure I would do no differently than Peter did. I know some would act differently in the same situation – whether out of courage or out of desperation. There are those who have the courage of their convictions in such a way that they can look pure evil in the face and not cower. And there are those who have suffered so much that there is no amount of evil that will turn them from their course toward justice. But I am neither. I am a coward through and through. Like Peter, I would have said “No, I do not know this man.”
That may be the point of Good Friday, but we know there’s more to the story and it is not the point of Easter. In response to the three times that Peter denied Jesus after his arrest, the risen Christ redeems Peter by asking not whether Peter knew him but “Do you love me?” Like the earlier question, it was also asked 3 times. Each time Peter responds in the affirmative and each time he is told to “feed (or tend) my sheep.”
When Peter denied knowing his friend Jesus, he was not condemned for his lack of courage in the face of potential martyrdom. He was simply reminded of his human frailty. And days later, when the risen Christ asked Peter if he loved him, Jesus didn’t criticize or condemn Peter for previously denying him, he merely asked Peter to demonstrate that love through service to others.
What hope do we look forward to this Easter? And what is expected of us if this hope is to have any meaning? While we must recognize our human frailty as we recall the times when we’ve lost courage and failed to stand for what we believe, we can take heart when we remember that this is not what was asked of Peter, and it is not what is asked of us. Instead, like Peter, we are called to show our love for God, not simply by acknowledging him but by doing as he asks – if we love him, we must serve others.
I may proclaim that I am a Christian from the rooftops but truly that is of no value. Even if I have the courage to say it in the face of potential violence, what real purpose does it serve? But rather, we must be willing to “walk with each other … hand in hand” and “work with each other … side by side”, as we feed and tend his sheep, showing the world that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” Only then will we be responding in the affirmative to the question of the risen Christ who asks us “Do you love me?”