When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15, Recommend reading the full text, 21:1-19)
We often say that we love God. What do we really mean by saying that we love God? Is it just limited to the words we utter, or is it much beyond that? We will derive some lessons from Peter’s life on how to love God truly.
We see that in the preceding passage, where Jesus appeared again, after his resurrection, to the disciples for the third time by the Sea of Galilee, which is also called the sea of Tiberias. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I am going out to fish,” and they said, “we will also go with you.” They went out to the sea for fishing. They forgot what their master, Jesus Christ, had said to them so far. They were so discouraged because of the death of their master.
They thought that they were left alone as the sheep without the shepherd. They went back to their past business, i.e., fishing.
They tried their very best all night, but they caught nothing. All their efforts went in vain. Early in the morning, Jesus appeared, helped them catch a lot of fish, and shared breakfast with them. After that, Jesus confronts Peter and confirms him in his pastoral calling with the three questions of love.
Jesus’ questions of “Do you love me” are intended to confront Peter and restore him back into the relationship with him. The test is simply Peter’s relation to the Lord. This is the basis of genuine Christianity—love towards God and God’s people. The test is not moral perfection, nor academic excellence, nor brilliance in ministry, nor a display of spiritual gifts, nor any agenda of our own but simply a relationship with the risen Lord and love for him.
Jesus communicates his will for Peter. He commissions Peter for service. The three commissions corresponding to Peter’s three answers are different- “feed my lamb, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep”. Jesus tells Peter, “You are to be a shepherd to my people, teaching and caring for them all—young and old.” It is a calling to serve all the people of God—lambs as well as grown-up sheep, the strong and the weak, the crippled and diseased, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the vulnerable.
Real love towards God begins with the denial of self-interest (Luke 9:23) and acceptance of God’s mission of service to others. Selflessness comes from an experience of life with the risen Jesus Christ – (Phi. 1:21-24; 3:7-11).
Devadas Galla, Yonsei University Global Institute of Theology
Risen Lord, enable us to boldly say that we love you when you confront us and ask, “Do you love me,” Loving you is loving your people despite the differences. Help us to carry on such love till the end. In Jesus’ name, Amen!