As Jesus asks Simon if he loves him in our gospel this week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this touching scene from Fiddler on the Roof. Take a gander:
Do you love me? That’s a scary question. Most people avoid asking it. When we have a crush on someone we fear the answer to that question may be “no.” Married people sometimes wonder after they’ve been married for some time if their spouse really loves them? Tevye–who has had an arranged marriage–wonders if Golde really loves him–even though he can’t provide her a life that he believes she deserves.
But in this gospel scene on the seashore, it almost needs to be asked. After all, even with proof of the resurrection–after Jesus breaks through the doors of the upper room where the disciples were hiding in fear–after all that one would think that the disciples would run out of that room and start praising God.
But they don’t. They go fishing instead. Their former life. Still too afraid to proclaim the news of Jesus, these men decide that they can slip back into their old ways of being. With Jesus they were more fully alive–but fishing? Well that was an OK lifestyle too. Fishing again wouldn’t be that bad. Fishing was comfortable. And after all, Jesus came a upset that apple cart and now has left them alone to figure things out.
I can almost hear Peter…”Look I don’t know what to do now. I’m a fisherman and all I know is that a fisherman fishes.”
But haven’t the disciples been changed–by this Jesus? These men, and in particular, Peter, need to accept a new way of life. And if they needed any kind of a sign that they need to change. What happens? They fish all night and they catch nothing. And no fisherman ever wants to be caught without a catch. It’s embarrassing. And who catches them? Jesus.
God comes into each of our lives most often at times when we’d rather not be caught by God, doesn’t he? When we are at the bottom of the barrel, in the gutter, when all hope is lost. When our fiddler on the roof is sliding down the side of the house and hanging on to the edge of the rain gutter so he won’t kill himself.
And Peter is caught too…full of guilt and sin and it’s so awkward. Peter jumps in the water and Jesus doesn’t embrace him but instead tells him to bring the catch of fish over to the charcoal fire.
The charcoal fire? You can almost feel the tension–as if Jesus is saying, “Yes, you know that place where you were warming yourself when you denied you even knew me.”
The drama gets higher as they eat–think of the awkward silence that comes. They eat wondering what Jesus is thinking. All these disciples been caught in their failure as the ones who have abandoned Jesus. Perhaps their fishing is even a sign that they are giving up on Jesus.
We know how the story ends because our first reading shows Peter filled with confidence preaching even though the religious authorities forbid him from doing so.
How did Peter get from point A to point B? How is Peter able to transform his life from one of hopelessness into one of bravery, confidence and inner peace?
He answers Jesus’ question.
Do you love me more than these…and the scripture scholars say that he doesn’t mean more than the disciples but he means do you love me more than FISHING?
Jesus could have asked him anything but he asks him in this moment to change. Simon, son of John will you forget about everything that has defined your life up until this point? Forget about that old charcoal fire because you have just eaten from a new one. Forget about the empty net of your past life, for I have just filled it with 153 fish, one for each country that was known to man at that time. Look at that empty boat and leave it behind on the seashore and no longer be Simon the empty but be Peter who is filled with confidence and life in the Eucharist that I have provided you.
No longer deny that you know me, Peter. But believe in me and be transformed by me.
Do you love me? Then believe in yourself. Believe that you can feed sheep and tend to their needs and when Jesus asks him that third time–Peter is distressed and Jesus makes sure that Peter understands that he will need enough confidence to stay with Jesus all the way to his death this time. That his life will not be easy. Does Peter can believe that Jesus is all that he’ll ever need?
Can we be that confident? Can we even be confident enough to love?
It seems to me that many times in my own life, I’m not particularly good at loving. I get too wrapped up in wondering if others love me that I stop short of loving because I don’t want to get hurt.
That fear stops me from choosing to love not only those who are close to me, but also those who are difficult for me to love. I don’t love those who go hungry and homeless because I’m afraid that I might not be able to care for myself if I give away too much. I don’t love those who need a lot of care because they’ll take too much of my time. I don’t always even show love to my wife after we have a disagreement because quite frankly I’d just rather be right. It’s in all of those things that we see that we fail–just as Peter did.
Can any of us be Peter? Can any of us be bold enough to risk our very lives to love Jesus more than anything else?
Or do we choose to be a simple Simon? Fishing all night for nothing.
Can we love when life beats us down and makes it hard for us to even consider love as an option? Can we let go of our own insecurities and hurts as easily as Jesus lets go of the pain that Peter inflicted with his denials?
And when we are confronted with someone who needs our love–who asks us with uncertainty—”Do you love me?”
Can we even in exasperation reply “I suppose I do?”
For if we can, it won’t be difficult to hear the voice of Jesus sing with joy back to us, “And I suppose I love you too.”