“Simon, do you love me more than these?”
The first time I heard the real explanation of this gospel passage was at a college dance. I thought Jesus was asking if Simon loved Him more than the other disciples did. This scene takes place on the sea shore, after Christ’s resurrection. It is just before Jesus gives Simon the name Peter and named him the head of the Church. For a long time, it made sense in my mind that Jesus would ask Simon if he loved more than the other disciples.
“Do you love me more than the life you’re leaving behind?”
Several years ago, during our engagement, I was at a college dance. Our chaplain and good friend, Fr. Carl, was chatting with me. I asked if he used to dance while he was in college. He proudly told me he was actually an excellent dancer, but that he chose to forgo the pleasure now that he was a priest.
Of course, I’ve always understood there are certain good things priests surrender. Companionship, free schedules, and choice of living are the obvious ones. Choosing not to dance with attractive young women is an honorable and self-aware decision for an individual priest to make. I asked him if he missed it. He answered by citing the gospel.
“I love God more than I love the fish.”
Jesus was not asking Simon if he loves more than the other disciples. He was asking if Simon loved Him more than the fish he caught. If he loved God more than the life he was about to leave behind. After Christ’s death, the disciples hid in the upper room. After several days, Simon decided to go fishing. He simply stands up and says, “I am going fishing.” This choice may seem strange, and it is. Jesus is gone. 3 years have amounted to a brutal murder. Simon going fishing is Simon returning to his former life. The life he was meant to leave behind.
Jesus says, “do you love me more than these?” He is asking if Simon can surrender his life again, resurrected along with Christ. Can Simon follow him again? Sacrifice again? Can he choose God and the path of hardship?
We are all going to be asked this question at some point in our lives. Do we love God more than we love dancing? More than fishing? Do we love Him more than the life we know? Then what is familiar and in front of us?
Can we leave it all behind?