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What keeps me up at night?

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.”  He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was grieved because he said to him a third time, “Do you love me?”  And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” — John 21:15-17

Before anyone asks, this isn’t going to be a treatment of the issue of agape and filio in this selection.  While I find that both stimulating and moving, it’s not why I’m here today.  That said…

For some reason this passage came into my head several days ago and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.  I’ve always felt a particular attachment to Peter due to the dual reasons of our shared name and personality.  And perhaps because we both continually find new ways to screw up and are gently dusted off by our Lord and set on a straight path again.

It is with that in mind that I look at this not as a proof-text but as something even greater than the simple words on the page.  To me this is not just a conversation between two men, or even between a man and God – it is a question asked to each and every one of us and a way of framing every decision we make in our lives from here on out.  Do you love me more than these?

Several days ago my best friend’s father passed away.  This got me thinking about the judgment each person faces after death.  Now, as far as I know, the Church has no official teaching about how exactly this judgment will go, but I get the feeling this question will have something to do with it – Do you love me more than these?  Imagine having that question posed to you by Jesus Himself, seeing the nail marks in His hands and then saying, “yes Lord, I do.”  I wonder … could I say that?  Could I say it now, will I be able to say it then?

There is, of course, more to it than that.  One question has long vexed me – who or what are the “these” to which He refers?  Generally it’s understood Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him more than do the other Apostles.  That is not however, at least in the English translation, the only way it can be interpreted.

Wrapped in the question is also, “do you love me more than these” – i.e. does your love for Jesus outweigh your love for everyone else, even your closest friends and family.  Does Jesus come first, and do you really love everyone else through the lens of your love for Him?  It sounds like an easy question to answer to many, but when you really get down and wrestle with it, well, do I?

The net can be cast yet wider too.  Do I love Him more than all the other gadgets, gizmos, trophies, quests, people and places in my life?  When it comes down to it, when my love for Him is placed on one side of a scale and my love for all the other people, places and things in my life on the other, which way would it tip?  When I look at the places I go, the people I see, the things I do – do they resonate with a love for Him that surpasses my love for anything else?  Do I, really, love Him more than these?

Thoughts such as these are usually greeted with a friendly reminder about keeping balance in life.  As much as I appreciate these comments, and I truly do for my life seems to have all the balance of a broken Weeble-wobble at times, it stands in stark contrast to the complete, and some would say reckless, abandon found in the examples of so many of the saints.  It is, as a friend said recently, very hard to look a spouse or a child right in the eye and know that we are called to love God even more.

The call, it seems, is impossible.  But that doesn’t make it any less real or any less necessary.  For me, for you, this is impossible, but only if we do it alone.  There are no unfunded mandates with God; all we have to do is step back, relax, and cooperate with the grace God offers us.  The only thing stopping us … is us.  So, “Do you love me more than these?”  Lord, help me to love You that much.

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