Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
The second half of the gospel for Sunday tells of Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved him. Commentators have written volumes on why Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Was it because he denied Jesus three times? Was it because Peter has been consistently slow to understand and Jesus wants to make sure he is committed? Is it because of the importance of the call being given to him? Whatever the reason, Peter has three opportunities to say yes to that important question.
We know that it is easy to say the words “I love you” but it is far more difficult to live them out day after day. Love, real love, is never just a matter of words but rather a choice that has to include actions. And, of course, real love does not include negative actions like possessiveness, jealousy, fear or selfish expectations, etc. Rather, real love is unconditional.
To love someone unconditionally means that you love the person as she or he really is with all her or his human foibles. If you love someone, you will love her or him even if you have disagreements, or foolishly hurt each other. Unconditional love means that you will always be there for that person no matter what.
Isn’t this the way Jesus responded to everyone he met whether it was Peter denying him, or a person filled with a legion of demons? Isn’t this how he treated women in a society where women were less than second class? Isn’t this how he dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees in spite of their belligerence toward him? Isn’t this how our loving God is with us?
In the story the three times Peter denied Jesus have now been replaced by three affirmations. And the commission every time is “Feed my sheep.” In the Christian community love always expresses itself in service. Love for the resurrected Christ is shown by our care for and commitment to others, especially the marginalized, especially people in need. People know and experience the loving care of the Christ only through the actions of those who love him. Hopefully, through us.
Just like Peter, the Lord calls us, even with our human weakness, to love him above all else. I would lay money on the fact that our call has changed significantly over the years, and that our response to that call changed as well. We all know the famous words St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new. Late have I loved you!” This is the story for some of us who came to our yes to God long after we chose to follow Christ. Our real commitment to love Christ and the people of God came later with struggle, prayer and perseverance. I read a quote somewhere that says, “Love isn’t blind, it only sees what matters.” Well, I think it took some of us a little longer than others to truly see what matters.
In the first reading some of the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest for disobeying the command to stop preaching about Jesus. “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.” This is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times. It’s the same Peter who later told the risen Christ three times that he loved him. This is a clear picture of that love in words and actions. Do we have the courage and conviction to love our God wholeheartedly and live in such a way that shows our love on a daily basis?
What has helped you to remain faithful to your commitment to God and others?
How would you describe your love for God and the way you live it out on a daily basis?