A DIARY OF DAILY PRAYER
21 May 2020
Opening Sentences (responsive) (from Psalm 30 – Stephen Mitchell)
Sing to the Lord, you who love him;
Thank him from the depths of your hearts.
For though he may seem to be absent,
In his presence is eternal life.
Tears may linger when night falls,
But joy arrives with the dawn.
Therefore my soul blesses him with every breath I take.
My song will thank him forever, and my silence will be filled with his praise.
Prayer for Illumination
Loving and patient God, as we read these words from John’s Gospel account, help us to hear Jesus’ question to us in Jesus’ question of Peter. Then will we find ourselves closer to loving your Son. Amen.
Scripture Reading John 21:15-17
SOME THINGS TO PONDER AS YOU READ THE PASSAGE:
One aspect of this familiar passage we do not readily see has to do with the two Greek words for love that are at play in this passage. When Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” he uses the Greek word agape, which has to do with the love God has for us and for all of creation…a selfless, unconditional love. Both times, Peter responds by saying, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to friendship type of love…to loyalty, reliability, and absolute trustworthiness…all perfectly good qualities…and qualities that stand in stark relief from Peter three times denying that he knew Jesus. But Jesus wants Peter’s love to take on a deeper quality, a more mature quality…a type of love that certainly includes the virtues entailed in phileo love but ups the ante.
It seems that Jesus is trying to get Peter and the early church and us to realize a couple of things. First, if we say we love Jesus but do not love one another then we don’t really love Jesus very much.[i] And second, it is when we truly love one another (i.e., being focused upon feeding Jesus’ sheep rather than being distracted by the 100,000,001 things we think are important) that Jesus will continue to be present and fully known.
With these thoughts as background, consider the text.
READ TEXT: John 21:15-17
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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…”
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.” Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep…”
In a 2013 graduation speech to Duke Divinity School students, theologian/ethicist Stanley Hauerwas said something I can’t get out of my head…or more to the point, out of my heart. Reflecting upon Jesus’ question to Peter, “Do you love me,” Hauerwas said, “I suspect I am more ready to believe in Jesus than I am to love him.”[ii]
His question to those soon-to-be pastors makes me question …what are the ways in which I have said and done everything that looks like I’m Jesus’ disciple…crossed all the “t’s” and affirmed all the creedal statements and said “yes” to all the official questions… that I’ve said and done everything EXCEPT love Jesus?
Speaking to a Duke Chapel full of newly minted M.Div. students, Hauerwas goes on to say, “I suspect most of us are not prepared to answer that question, because we fear, if we answer honestly, what we may have to say. We are not at all sure we love Jesus. We are not at all sure we even know what such a love entails. What could it possibly mean that Jesus asks us to love him?”[iii]
Is your faith and my faith in Jesus about a set of beliefs or habits? To what degree is our faith about love for Jesus? And in what ways are our beliefs about Jesus and our faith practices a substitute for loving Jesus?
I want to suggest that while this time of social distancing and remote worship is an onerous burden to be borne…it is also giving us a remarkable, unanticipated, and incalculable opportunity to be addressed by Jesus’ question.
We all long to be able to worship together…and we should put our best and most clear headed planning into what needs to happen in order for us to be able to gather safely and responsibly. Many, many hands will be needed in order to make coming back together as joyous and sustainable as it should be.
But let us not be so focused upon getting back into the sanctuary that we ignore this opportunity to have our faith deepened by taking an honest look at how we would answer Jesus’ question…“Do you love me?”
We read the papers and listen to the news on the radio…and so cannot help but be aware of a level of suffering everywhere. Frustration, fear, depression, confusion, impatience like a thin layer of topsoil seems to have settled on the entire planet.
We know you are not the author of the suffering…but we wonder if the frustration is your doing, blessed Lord? Are people faithfully responding to your Spirit at work in them? As people of faith we must ask…because we do not want to ignore your intentions for us.
We know your Son came that we all may have abundant life…and so help us distinguish those things that are your handiwork from those things that are not. Give us the courage to set aside any perspective we may have that prevents your intention from being reflected in us.
When we lose our way and thick fog shrouds from our view the familiar path and the lights of home…when with deliberate intent we turn our back on truth and peace…when in loneliness we sit in the thicket of despair too weak to move or to lift our heads…we give glad thanks for the assurance that you seek us out and find us and, like a shepherd, bring us the sort of comfort you alone can give.[iv] Amen.
Jesus, our Christ, has already given us into the arms of a loving God. May we lean into his arms this and every day.
[i] See 1 John 4:20-21.
[ii] Hauerwas, Stanley. https://faithandleadership.com/stanley-hauerwas-question-cannot-be-avoided.
[iv] This paragraph was adapted from a prayer written by: Thurman, Howard. 2006. Howard Thurman: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 42. From The Inward Journey, 140-141.