“In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
-St John of the Cross
Today’s Gospel passage is a very eloquent portrayal of the dynamics of loving God. To fully comprehend these dynamics, we must see ourselves as Peter. When we experience failures in some new undertaking, one of the common tendencies is to try to go back to the way we were and try to undo the past. This is all the more when it comes to love. For in love, unrealized hopes are always soul crushing. The reminiscences of Peter during these Gospel event must have been so poignant and made more powerful by the presence of a charcoal fire, beside which his denials had been committed. He remembered how Jesus called him while practicing his trade. He remembered it all, the overwhelming catch of fish, how Jesus baptized him as the Rock, the leader of the apostolic community over which the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail. His thoughts may have come back on the moments he witnessed how Jesus raised the dead and how we was glorified in Mt Tabor. Finally, he recalled how he would have killed for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and how he swore on the previous supper to never leave his Master even unto his death. Then those words echoed which may have struck him through the heart once again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times (Jn 13:38). And now we reflect on how he sees on the gaze of the Risen Jesus the eyes which look upon him with pity and love on the courtyard of the High Priest despite his denial. The reality of the resurrection might have increased his regret and loss all the more. He might have been thinking, “I should never have doubted Him. I should never have denied Him. I should have stood up for him for He would truly rise again. Now, how can I bring back the past? How can I be His rock again? How can I show my face to Him? What can redeem me now?”
We can thus see that with the threefold denial of Peter comes the threefold affirmation of his love. Furthermore, in the Hebrew usage, repeating a word thrice means fullness and extremity. It tells us that love of God can only be all or nothing. True love has no reservations. It will also be worthwhile to reflect that John used two Greek words for love in these passages: the phileos and the much greater self-sacrificing agape. Jesus used agape in asking Peter while Peter answered with phileos twice before affirming agape on the last time.
The Gospel passage also reminds us that love of God is a love that must serve. Jesus responds to our profession of love by commissioning us to serve, to take care of his flock. Our love for Jesus can be expressed and experienced personally when we have love for one another. We can experience the Risen Jesus in our relationship with one another.
The challenge of today’s Gospel is for us to never give up on love. We can get tired from time to time but what is important is that we stay in love. We can always choose love. Love is a choice, a decision that one must continuously make and profess, not just when we are passionate or intimate. Love is a devotion, a decision we commit ourselves on. For in the end, it is our love that will only matter, a love that the Lord fully knows, a love that the Lord clings on every time we fall, a love which is like the little flame in the midst of enormous darkness, yet darkness can never consume it as long as it chooses to shine. It is on this love by which we shall be judged or rather it is this love that will justify us. For love is always redeeming.
1st Reading: Acts 5:27-32.40b-41
2nd Reading Rev 5:11-14
Gospel: Jn 21:1-19