I'm trying my hand at a Bible fanfic. This story is based on John 21.
In that chapter, Jesus thrice asks Peter whether Peter loves him. The subtleties of this conversations are lost in translation, as the Greek words "agape" and "phileo" are both translated as "love". You can read more about the possible meaning of this exchange here or here.
I wrote this story while reflecting on why Jesus and Peter would use those particular words for "love". Happy Easter!
Uh-oh. Here it comes.
"Simon, son of John, do you love me? Will you follow me, live for me, and die for me?"
I... had not been ready for that, although I knew that something like it was coming. I suppose I should've thought of an answer beforehand. I nibble at the fish in my hand and pretend that I'm not yet done eating, but it does nothing to hide me. Maybe I should pretend to choke on a fish bone? The eyes of the Lord and the other disciples are all on me. Cowards. They'd all been jabbering away during breakfast, pestering Jesus with their questions. But they're all quiet now, waiting for me to answer. I guess I've been unusually quiet around Jesus recently. Even just earlier, I had acted like a fool, diving out of the boat to get to him first, then not saying anything to him once I got ashore. I couldn't even meet his eye. I just looked down and around, standing with Jesus in awkward silence, while everyone else came on the boat. I feel like a bigger fool now, as I reply:
"Well, ah... yes, of course, Lord. You know that I, you know, love you enough to do those things for you. You can count on me."
I'm not sure what's worse: that the other disciples know that I'm lying, that Jesus knows that I'm lying, or that I know that I'm lying. Who could believe anything I say now, after how my promise at the Passover supper turned out? "I would die for you"? Ha! I was lying when I said it then. Why would what I say now be any different? I go back to looking down, and pretend to eat my fish.
"Feed my lambs.
Simon, son of John, do you love me? Truly, completely, unconditionally, and wholeheartedly?"
This time, I do momentarily choke on a fish bone. Ack. Cough. Ahem. Gulp. How am I suppose to answer that? Should I say, "yes, Lord, I really do love you"? But what if he replies with "but truly I tell you, before you finish that fish, you'll deny me three more times"? Then I guess I'm suppose to just go "if you say so, Lord" this time? Because answering him with all my resolve - with clenched fists, burning eyes, and gritted teeth - didn't do any good last time, at the supper. I think - I feel - that I love him now, but I think I felt the same way back then. So really, what does my answer, my resolve, or my efforts matter? What does it matter that I say in response:
"Well... sure, Lord. You know, um, that I love you, you know, in all those ways."
Am I damning myself with that answer? Could it possibly be that I should instead say "No, I don't love you"? Would I rather go back to how I was at the supper, ignorant and wrongly confident? Was I a better person, a better disciple back then? I think my replies so far have been honest, for whatever that's worth. Does that count for anything? Or does it just make me a fickle, spineless, worthless coward, who can't even answer a straightforward question about how I feel?
"Tend my sheep.
Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
What can I do but say what I feel now? So I just say:
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
A simple question, and a simple answer. That's all I can say. That's what I know for now. I don't know how I'll end up in the future. I don't know if what I've said is enough. I don't know how long it's good for. But he knows - he knows everything. For now, in response to a simple enough question, I can only say that I love him.
"Feed my sheep.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go."
And will I be able to answer you then? Will I then be able to say, "Yes, I love you. I have followed you, lived for you, and died for you. I love you truly, completely, unconditionally, and wholeheartedly"? Can I dare hope for that possibility?
I don't know. But... my replies no longer torment me. At the moment, it's peaceful here. Calm. There's no more questions to answer, nothing more that has to get done. Not like the times before Jesus's crucifixion, where we were always going from town to town. I'm sure we'll have things to do soon enough. But for now, it's just us, here on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, relaxing after a good breakfast. I don't worry about the future, or what I know, or how I'll turn out. I'm just sitting in the peace with Jesus, whom I love.
Soon enough, he says "follow me", and I get up again.
You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity
Merry Christmas! And happy one year anniversary for this blog!
Another post, from the table of contents
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