How would you answer if a stranger (or a friend) came up and asked “Who are you?” Would you talk about your job or your career? Would you mention your family or maybe say something about your personality? Would you mention religious beliefs or political stances? It’s an important question because it speaks to our self-identity and how we, or if we, find meaning in our lives and that seems especially important in a world where we can wake up every morning thinking, “this is not the world I thought I knew yesterday.” It’s also a question that we sometimes have to confront, whether we want to or not, when we experience major life changes such as losing a job or a divorce. These are experiences that make us question who we are.
Many characters in the Bible are confronted with this question of identity. One such story is when the resurrected Jesus appears to Peter and other disciples over breakfast on the lakeshore (John 21). After all that had happened with Jesus’ arrest, murder, and then resurrection, it would be shocking if Peter wasn’t confused and feeling lost, like he didn’t know who he was or what he was supposed to be doing. It shouldn’t surprise us then that he has returned to what he knew best, fishing. Now, after breakfast is done, Jesus starts asking Peter this one question: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” After Jesus’ arrest, Peter had denied three times that he was his follower and now Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” In other words, who are you? Are you my follower or not? If you are then feed my sheep, take care of my sheep… (sheep, of course, referring to the poor and oppressed to and with whom Jesus ministered).
Jesus needs Peter not to be a fisherman but to accept who God needs him to be: the shepherd that Jesus was, God’s hands and voice in the world caring for all of God’s beloved children. Jesus needs Peter to accept his own identity as God’s beloved child, a person of God’s Way of Love. This is who we are also created to be: God’s beloved and divine children, people of God’s Way, people of love. And this is, in fact, an identity which can never be taken away from us. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Can we accept, like Peter, that this is who we are? We sometimes resist, thinking we aren’t good enough. We judge ourselves as unworthy even though God does not. We fail to forgive ourselves for mistakes even though God forgives freely.
Peter was challenged in his encounter with the risen Christ to accept who he was. Encounters with the risen Christ will always challenge us, too: Who are you? Are you not a person of love? Encounters with the Divine are an invitation to be God’s love for this world in which we live, a world desperately in need of more love. “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep,” Jesus says. Feed God’s people, both with actual food to feed the hungry, as well as figuratively to feed God’s people with the message that they too are God’s beloved children, and if we can accept that then no one and no thing can take the love of God from us.
This reflection is inspired by the sermon, “Do You Love Me?” from May 5, 2019 and originally published in the church newsletter on May 17, 2019. Recordings of most sermons can be found on the Phoenix website: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.