When Christ asks St. Peter, “Do you love Me?” I always thought it was a dumb question. Because if Christ asked me if I loved Him, my answer would be something along the lines of, “yeah duhhhhh”. I am after all a front-row deacon(FRD™), Sunday school servant, checking all the boxes of the ideal Christian. So when posed with the question, “Do you love Jesus?” forgive me if I find it a little unnecessary. Of course I love Him!
Love, at least the love worth something, is an act of sacrifice, putting aside my will, my comfort, my wants, my needs for someone else’s needs and comfort and will. When you are in a relationship with someone and you say you love them, there’s a set of expectations for you to follow. You think about them. You prioritize them. You sacrifice for them. But when I think about if I love Jesus, the objective answer is I don’t. Because if I did, I’d get up early and pray in the morning; if I did, I’d stay up during the vigils, I wouldn’t be on my phone during services, and mindlessly speed read my Bible to quiet my conscience. And it’s not because I am physically unable to spend time with Him or think about Him or read my Bible or go to an overnight service with Him. Because in other parts of my life I make the same sacrifices for other things. When I have an exam, I stay up and study for it even if I’m tired. When there are Black Friday sales, I get up in the middle of the night and go. And it’s at this incongruence that I realize that I am not unable to give God my time and attention. I am unwilling. And by definition, I don’t really love Jesus.
This realization comes in two parts. First, when I realize that I do not love Jesus at least not as much as I love myself, I become disgusted with myself, I hate myself, I hate my condition. And even then, that disgust is less about Jesus and more about my ego being hurt and finding out I am not the ideal specimen I’ve always considered myself to be. But slowly, there is a transition, and you find that the natural response to finding out that you’re sick is to find a Physician. Because in the swamp of self-loathing and pity there comes this Grace, this paternal warmth, this voice that tells you ever so lovingly that it’s okay. Because the realization that you’re prideful and pitiful might be news to you but it’s not to Jesus. Jesus knew you before you knew you. He knows that you’re going to betray Him, to hurt Him, sell Him out for 30 pieces of silver or a graduate degree or whatever your vice of choice is. He knows that and He died for you anyway. Let that sink in, Christ knows you’re a sinner, BUT HE DIED FOR YOU ANYWAY. He adopted you anyway, He loved you anyway. And the combination of seeing your inadequacy and His Love and Grace leaves you with no choice but to fall at His feet and cry out with the tax collector “have mercy upon me a sinner”.
The first step to solving your problem is admitting that you have one. You are imperfect, you have always been imperfect and will continue to be imperfect. The second step is to realize that in the midst of your imperfection there is grace and His grace is sufficient for you. And the synergy of your struggle and His grace is what purifies us and brings us closer to that ideal hope, Christ, our Salvation. The point of salvation is not to reach this theoretical static state of sinlessness, but rather that there is one Way, one Truth, one source of Life, Jesus Christ, and salvation is oneness and communion with Him.
So, do I love Jesus? No, not yet, not with the perfect love that befits only Him, but that’s okay, I’m working on it and so is He.