Pastoral Message – May 1, 2022
“Do you love me more than these?”
This is the beginning of the commission Jesus gives to Peter at the end of John’s Gospel. It is also His question and commission to each of us two thousand years later. I just took my dad to see Mark Wahlberg’s movie, Fr. Stu. It’s the story of a man who decides to become a priest later in life. As it turns out, the real Fr. Stu actually attended the same seminary (Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon) as Fr. Reynold and I attended. Because we each entered the seminary as older men, we each had a lot of “these” to give up or to walk away from. In Fr. Stu’s case, he had to love Jesus more than the woman that he was hoping to marry.
In the Gospel we hear that Peter and several other apostles have gone to the lake. They are a little discouraged, maybe still a bit fearful, and definitely uncertain about what they should do next. In particular Peter is missing Jesus and is still feeling the effects of denying Jesus three times. Finally, he says, “I am going fishing.” After all, this was his trade, his profession, his livelihood. This is where he was most comfortable, this is what he knew best. This is where he could be himself; talk as much as he wanted, strip down to minimal clothing, and forget about life for a while. The other disciples go with him.
Unfortunately, their return to their old lives doesn’t go as they would have liked. They don’t catch a single fish. It’s as if God is saying “This is not the job I want you to do!” It seems like God is showing them that He has greater things in store for them and He is about to once again push them in that
direction. First, to get their attention, Jesus intervenes and gives them a different approach to catching fish. He tells them to try the other side of the boat. They do and haul in 153 fish—a catch so large that it was likely to tear the net. At this point Peter realizes it’s Jesus and, in a typically impulsive way, dives into the water to head straight to Jesus on the beach. After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three questions which track Peter’s three denials of Jesus:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
What does Jesus mean when He says, “more than these?” Is He asking whether Peter loves Him more than the other apostles love Him? That would be an odd and perhaps a divisive comparison. Maybe Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Jesus more than he loves the other apostles? That really doesn’t make too much sense. Perhaps the most likely meaning of the question is whether Peter loves Jesus more than he loves boats, nets, and especially, fish. In other words, he is asking Peter whether he loves moving forward with the Good News of Jesus more than he loves looking backward to his old, safe, comfortable life as a fisherman. Peter seems to understand. “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Peter is really telling Jesus that he is finally ready to commit fully to Him; to leave behind his former life, to leave behind his own plans, to leave behind his fears, and to do what Jesus needs him to do.
After Peter’s “Yes!” to each question Jesus gives him a very specific commission:
“Feed my lambs.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Feed my sheep.”
Peter is charged with feeding and tending to the followers of Jesus. As described elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is making Peter a “fisher of men.” How does Peter’s life track our own lives? When he is first called to follow Jesus at the start of His ministry, Peter knows nothing about what that would entail. Many of us simply followed Jesus because it was expected of us. Like Peter, we had no idea what we were getting into. Over the next three years Peter stumbles often. One time Jesus even calls him Satan. We also stumble often as we try to follow Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus would never call us Satan. When Jesus needs Peter the most, Peter denies Jesus three times. Yet, Jesus not only forgives him, but commissions him to lead His Church. Jesus commissions all of us by our Baptisms. Yet, like Peter, we are all tempted to deny Jesus and to hold onto our own lives.
Finally, Jesus gives Peter: the chance to affirm his love for Jesus three times; and, the chance to sacrifice his career, plans, and earthly ambitions. Jesus again commissions him to be the rock upon which the entire Church is built. Peter is prepared to take up this commission, even though fishing would be the easier life. To follow Jesus means to give up his life just as Jesus did. The question is posed to us here today and every day is “Do we love Jesus more than these?” These houses, these cars, these clothes, these jobs, these successes, these earthly distractions, these sinful behaviors, these comfortable plans that we have made, these lazy habits that we enjoy.
Are we finally ready, like Peter, to accept our “great commission” to follow Him?