Do you love me?
“…It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.” –Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
When I was a teen, we had a wonderful youth minister who played guitar, composed music, and had us singing all the time. One of his compositions was a musical called “Breakfast at Galilee” that planted in my mind the picture of Jesus, Peter, Andrew, Nathaniel, John, James, Thomas and two others having a charcoal pit and breakfast on the beach. I grew up in a beach community so this image felt very immediate and relevant.
What I didn’t hear were the nuances between Jesus and Peter as Jesus faced Peter—and had Peter face his own shame and failings—by his thrice-asked question, “Do you love me?” I missed this beautiful interaction where Jesus is both helping Peter get past his guilt and shame, and gently continuing to point Peter to the rich life of meaning to which Jesus had originally called Peter three years earlier, a life that still awaited Peter, Peter with all his mistakes and flaws.
One of the commentaries I read last week was by Dan Clendenin from 2016 called “A Fire of Burning Coals .” (You can find it here—it is about one page long. https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/906-a-fire-of-burning-coals) In his essay, Clendenin describes a formative book, Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus, that describes Jesus’ invitation to Peter—and to each of us—to “downward mobility.” Clendenin explains that Nouwen was able to discover his “true identity” as a child of God when he made a radical career shift from world renowned Harvard professor to working at Daybreak, a home in Toronto for those with physical and mental disabilities. Nouwen’s work became the daily care and interaction with these residents. In doing that work, Nouwen learned to live in the question of love—of loving and of being beloved. At Daybreak, the only question that could have relevance for residents was “Do you love me?” Not “will it work?” or “is there an audience for this?” or “how many will it sell?” but the question that Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” If the answer is “yes,” then the response is to act in that love through care, companionship, and kindness—and in receiving the same care, companionship and kindness as a child of God.
Read Clendenin’s short essay and see what you think of this radical transformation, of this revolutionary way to practice resurrection. The essay and its challenge have really gripped my heart and imagination and hopes. I’ve gone on-line (Abe Books, $3.95 used copy with free shipping) to buy a copy of Nouwen’s In the Name of Christ. I hope you will read his short essay in the link above, and if you are also moved, and want to talk more, let me know, email@example.com. We can buy and share more books; we can simply talk about this short essay. I’d love to have a conversation with you about this Gospel passage.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, Rector