Digging in Deeper: John 21:17

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’  Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.'”  (ESV – Read the chapter)

Have you ever told someone you love them?  I suspect you have.  I suspect you’ve even meant it.  But, how deeply did you mean it?  Were they merely sincere words, or was there more behind them?  Were they primarily emotional words, or was there a conviction that ran deeper?  Saying, “I love you,” is easy.  Loving someone is entirely more difficult.

I was watching a Hallmark movie with Lisa this past Christmas.  It finished with the main characters confessing their love for each other.  Admittedly, it was a bit clumsier than most of their movies are.  There was a scene in which the female lead told the guy how much he had changed her life over the span of a week.  Then they changed to a scene in which the male lead told the girl how she had given his life meaning and direction.  Then it changed again to a scene where he told her (using her full name no less) that he was head over heels in love with her.  She smiled and told him (using his full name in response) that she loved him too.  Then they did a tandem bungee jump, presumably while maintaining the kiss they started before jumping.

A growing percentage of the country lives for that moment.  In the TV ratings wars, Hallmark dominated the field this past holiday season.  They dominated the field among women from 18-59 which really isn’t very surprising.  They also dominated the field among all viewers in a slightly narrower age range, meaning there were a whole lot more guys (like me) who were watching along with their gals than perhaps would be willing to admit it in public.

I think a significant part of the reason for this is that Hallmark has practically perfected capturing the moment when two people have fallen in love and are expressing it with their first kiss.  The whole movie builds to this point of excitement and romance and passion.  They invariably survive some “oh no!” moment too, so you know they are more committed to each other than the things that might pull them apart.  And yet, by ending here, well before they have had the chance to face many challenges together, or even really to get to know each other very well, their expressions of love cannot be any deeper than mere expressions of strong emotions.

This is not to say there is necessarily anything wrong with such expressions, and I enjoy most of their movies.  But, what Hallmark is doing in many ways is slowly downgrading the depths of what real love is in the minds of millions of viewers.  Real love is something entirely deeper than strong emotions developed over the course of 120 minutes with several commercial breaks to keep the money flowing.

When Peter confessed his own love for Jesus before the cross, he was mostly expressing the commitment of strong emotions.  He had been with Jesus for three years through a variety of situations that would have engendered a fierce emotional commitment in his heart.  He really did love Jesus.  But, he loved Jesus in more of a Hallmark sense than the kind of deeper, action-oriented love Jesus wanted him to have.

Indeed, when Peter boldly asserted that he would never abandon Jesus even if all the other disciples did (which would have probably left their eyes rolling…again), Jesus responded not with an affirmation of his feelings, but a prediction that he would deny even knowing Jesus before the night was over.  That had to pierce Peter’s heart.  It would be like if one of the main characters in a Hallmark movie responded to the expression of love from the other by saying, “I know you think you mean that, but when things get really tough in a few weeks, you’re going to walk out on me just like the guy who dumped me at the beginning of the movie did.”  It no doubt broke his hearted even harder when Jesus’ words proved entirely true.

This is perhaps why even after the excitement of the resurrection when at least Peter’s final moments with Jesus were going to be able to be marked by something other than denial and betrayal, Peter had gone back to fishing.  He figured that even though Jesus was back, he was toast.  And wouldn’t you?  Sometimes the hardest person to convince we can be restored after a major failure is ourselves.  Peter’s was about as big as you can get.

Thus, when the other guys are eating and having a good time, Jesus pulls Peter aside and asks him directly: Peter, do you love me?  Peter affirms twice that he does indeed still have the same emotional commitment to Jesus that he did before he failed Him.  When Jesus asks for the third time, Peter seems to realize what is going on and his heart breaks.  “Lord, you know that I love you,” he says, probably barely above a whisper.

Jesus responds with words that have been analyzed and preached on almost endlessly.  Feed my sheep.  Do something about it.  Get to work and demonstrate that this love is more than an emotional swell, but rather a soul-deep conviction to advance my kingdom in the hearts and minds of my people.

I have talked about before that love, biblically defined, is an intentional commitment to see someone else become fully who God designed them to be.  When it comes to Jesus, the definition changes slightly to being an intentional commitment to seeing Christ glorified fully for who He truly is.  Saying we love Jesus, just like saying we love another person, is one thing.  Living out that confession through a series of intentional actions is something else entirely.

So, let me ask you the very question Jesus posed to Peter: Do you love Him?  And if you are willing to confess that, what do you mean by that?  Are you committed to Him emotionally such that you do the church thing and listen to Christian music on the radio and repost or like Jesus-oriented Facebook memes and have emotional swells when people talk about missions trips and the like?  That’s not a bad thing at all.  But, does your commitment run any deeper than that?  What are you doing to feed His sheep?  How are you using your resources to advance His kingdom?  What are you sacrificing for the sake of the kingdom mission of your local church?  In whose life are you involved with the goal in mind of moving them in the direction of the kingdom?  Where are you carving out the space in your life to intentionally pursue the practice of the spiritual disciplines?  Do you love Jesus like you’re in a Hallmark movie, or are you ready to go deeper to where the real treasure is found?

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