Jesus and Peter have been apart, each on a profound journey. Jesus has made the passage through torture, through death – literally to hell and back. The spark of his being, flung out of the pain and limitation of three dimensional reality into wholeness and timelessness, has once again condensed into his bodily presence in First Century Galilee.
Peter’s odyssey has been the very human, in-the-world trek through betrayal to the realization of his terrible and foreknown failure, and then on to a tearful, remorseful repentance. He has come through a tempering of the soul in the fires of self-awareness.
Now here they are, the two of them, sitting together next to a campfire as a new day breaks in the history of the world. The question that rises between them, that falls from the lips of the incarnate God, is, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Do you love me?” Is it possible to ask that question and not feel the tender vulnerability of it? What if the answer is “no”? I have spoken these words to my partner and to my children, and in each case my heart has shivered with the risk of it. The “yes” has always been both a relief and an unspeakable joy.
Jesus knows Peter’s name. He knows him through and through. He knows him as one man knows another – the timbre of Peter’s voice, how his sweat smells, the feel of his dirty feet. He also knows him in the way that the Son of Man knows each one of us. Jesus knows the unique odor of his soul: his passions, his anxieties and shortcomings, his dreams and delights. Knowing this disciple so thoroughly, and cherishing him, Jesus bares his heart. Like a devoted, defenseless lover he utters, “Do you love me?”
Peter knows Jesus, too – a lot better now than he did on the Friday when he betrayed him. He now understands the real risks his Master is asking him to take, the blood and the pain and ultimately the death being requested of him. He has already kind of stretched toward finding it within himself to go where he needs to go. But, here on the shore, on the threshold of his new life, there is this one, piercing, naked question, and he has to answer it. He answers it three times and it becomes ineradicable. “Yes.” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Yes.”
Sometimes God’s demands on each one of us are the demands of the lover. “Turn away from all distractions and put your focus here, on me.” “Take on the searing joy, the profound mystery and the deep commitment of this relationship.” “Be present and responsible.” “Commit to a lifetime of presence, a lifetime of listening deeply, learning and acting, then again listening deeply, learning and acting.” “Do not be fickle; do not turn away.” “Allow the transformation of our commitment to one another to change your life completely, one little piece at a time.”
We have to climb out of ourselves, out of our anxieties and resentments, to meet Jesus on the shore of the lake at sunrise. In the dawn of real understanding, in the fire of self-awareness, in the knowledge of what is being asked, we have to sit still. Then we have to suffer the achingly intimate question. We have to let him ask it three times.
How has the voice of the Beloved whispered to your yearning heart?”
Did you say “yes”? Did you say it three times?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece (Fire on the Beach Uploaded by Yarl) [CC via Wikimedia Commons