There’s a famous scene in the Gospel of John where Jesus and Simon Peter sit together after a nice breakfast of fish and bread (detect a theme?). Jesus turns to Peter and delivers a charge to him that stops the story of the Bible in its tracks. Here is the passage from a not too familiar translation of the Bible:
When they had finished breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?” “Yes, Lord,” he replied, “you know that I am your friend.” “Then feed my lambs,” returned Jesus. Then he said for the second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” returned Peter. “You know that I am your friend.” “Then care for my sheep,” replied Jesus. Then for the third time, Jesus spoke to him and said, “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was deeply hurt because Jesus’ third question to him was “Are you my friend?”, and he said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I am your friend!” “Then feed my sheep,” Jesus said to him. [John 21:15-18; J.B. Philips New Testament]
The play here is in the Greek. Jesus asks the first two questions using the Greek word, agapeo, which means something like “radical God love that pursues without limits.” Peter responds with the Greek word, phileo, which means “You are my brother.” In the third question/answer, Jesus changes the Greek agapeo to phileo.
Jesus isn’t confused about how he loves Peter. Peter is offering him all the love he has in his guts. It’s real. It’s Expendables. It’s Rocky/Apollo Creed. It’s Ben & Jerry. It shows that God doesn’t require that we always love up to his level, that we be all perfect when we’re only faking it. In fact, Jesus doesn’t even ask Peter to fake it. Jesus condescends. †
Rather than throwing a high and mightier than thou smack down on Peter, Jesus says, “Pete, your love is substantial and I can love you like that. Like real brothers. Blood brothers.”
There’s this great scene in the movie Gung Ho…you may not have been born yet.
In this scene, Michael Keaton plays the manager of an automobile plant that has been taken over by a Japanese car company that has entirely different expectations. One of those expectations is that the American workers will up their game exponentially and produce 15,000 cars in one month — impossible. Keaton has to make sure that the job gets done knowing that it is going to be a tight squeeze to get to the bottom line. His team kind of makes it, but not really. The numbers are there but the quality is a circus of serious shortcuts.
Jesus believes in us like that.
If our lives were cars, he’d drive our cars.
If someone said ‘we failed’, he’d say, “I thought it handled great!”
I think we spend alot of time worrying about whether or not God likes us, much less loves us.
I think we believe that Jesus is a middle manager that polices our lives for the Boss (not Springsteen).
It’s hard to accept that he loves us.
And sometimes it’s impossible to believe he accepts us.
We can come up with a whole list of reasons why he shouldn’t, but it doesn’t matter…he does.
We don’t need to love God the way he loves us.
He loves you the he loves you…the way he loves someone like Peter.
A misfit that betrayed him.
A screw up that denied him.
Brennan Manning writes (brilliantly in The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
:”Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. As we glance up, we are astonished to find the eyes of Jesus open with wonder, deep with understanding, and gentle with compassion.”
The truth is:
There’s nothing you can do that will make God love you less.
There’s nothing you can do that will make God love you more.
When Jesus asks, “Are you my friend?” It’s not a lesser love, it’s absolute.
It’s a love that stoops to my level.
† “God didn’t overlook your sins, lest he endorse them. He didn’t punish you, lest he destroy you. He instead found a way to punish the sin and preserve the sinner. Jesus took your punishment, and God gave you credit for Jesus’ perfection.” Max Lucado, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine