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SUNDAY SCRIPTURES FOR MAY 1 | A declaration of love to Jesus necessitates action in service

Third Sunday of Easter | Jesus’ question to Peter — Do you love me? — requires an answer going beyond simple words

I hope you’re taking advantage of the long Easter season instead of moving on to the next thing. We have much to celebrate and more work to do to understand the meaning of Jesus rising from the dead. We know that His disciples and apostles struggled with it. We know they were disillusioned and discouraged because what they thought would happen didn’t. But once they heard the stories of the empty tomb, they had to make a decision. Would they go back to their old way of life, or would they take the chance to believe that what Jesus said was true?

We have a very poignant scene from John’s Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter. Some of the disciples have gone back to being fishermen. They recognize Jesus on the shore, and I’m sure they are confused and excited. Among those in the boat is Peter, who denied that he knew Jesus when Jesus needed him the most. Can you imagine what must’ve been going through his mind? Here is my rabbi and teacher whom I betrayed. How could I ever face Him again? What will He say to me?

In the encounter between Jesus and Peter, we have the perfect pattern of how Jesus handles betrayal. He doesn’t start with screaming, shouting, the cold shoulder or reprimands. He is conscious of our shame and embarrassment and already knows what we need to do. Jesus asks Peter the critical question — “Do you love me?” — He doesn’t ask it just one time but three times. We can assume that Jesus wasn’t trying to rub guilt in Peter’s face, but why three times?

We see the pattern of three betrayals and three declarations of love, but beyond that, we can see a deeper meaning. Peter understands that saying you love someone is different from actually loving them. A declaration of love to Jesus necessitates action in service. He instructs Peter to feed the sheep.

The account from the Acts of the Apostles shows us the development of Peter’s faith in Jesus. He can be faithful even when it may cost him his life. He has learned that love leads to the cross and to new life. There is no going back to the old way of life because of discouragement or disillusionment, but he needs to move forward and trust God.

Even though we have celebrated Easter Sunday, we get a chance to examine whether we live Easter lives each weekend. We do this by examining what we do with life’s disappointments. Anytime we believe that God hasn’t lived up to the promises that we’ve been given, do we go back to the old way, acting as if we are in control of life, or do we move forward one step at a time and trust that God’s promises are true?

If you have betrayed Jesus like Peter did and feel any sense of shame or disappointment in yourself, can you hear Jesus asking you if you love Him? He isn’t berating you or chastising you, but asking the most critical question: Do you love Him? If you answer yes, is it more than just words? Does your life have that Easter flavor to it? Is the direction of your life steady in hope, or is it a stop-and-start life depending on whether life is going the way you want it to go?

We have a long Easter season because, like the early disciples, it is difficult to understand what it means that Jesus rose from the dead. It takes a long time for us to allow God to give us a new heart and a new spirit, to let ourselves be in God’s control and out of our pseudo-control.

May your Easter season be filled with opportunities to listen to Jesus as He asks you that most important question: “Do you love me?”

Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.

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