Dear Disciple of Christ,
“Simon, do you love me more than these?” -John 21:15
Do you recognize that question? It was asked by Jesus and issued to Peter (whose name had been “Simon” until Jesus called him Peter, “The Rock”). This interaction took place on the seashore of the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection. They were there because Peter had decided he wanted to go fishing. Yep. I guess we’d have to say the excitement of the resurrection had worn off and, without the power from on high (the Holy Spirit), Simon was going back to his old life, the life he knew so well.
So what was the message and the point that Simon would need to understand if he was going to be a witness to Jesus, “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)? And the clarification? What was Jesus describing? What do we need to understand about discipleship that he learned that day and that the other disciples learned, that we are to learn and that Margie learned in her nursing home?
I spoke about Margie, a member of my church in Brooklyn, last week. I indicated that she was a dedicated disciple of Christ and used her last years in a nursing home to serve her Lord as an “in house” chaplain. It shouldn’t surprise us that a disciple who understood stewardship (the offering of self in service to the Lord) so deeply, would grasp other aspects of life and faith. And so, that wisdom was clear and she shared that with me during one visit toward the end of her life.
It was with excitement that Margie greeted me that day. “Oh Pastor. I’m so glad you’re here. Please, sit down. I have something to tell you. I’ve figured it out. I know why we’re here.” What would you surmise that meant? I wondered a little bit myself, wondering if she was speaking geographically (not likely she would be wondering how she got to that nursing home since she chose it) or if, more deeply, she was indicating an existential insight, that she understood why human beings exist. Was she ready to give me an eighty year old’s understanding of the meaning of life? Actually, it was none of those things.
She began to describe the question often asked in a nursing home setting or by the elderly who have outlived their friends and spouses. Do you remember the third floor residents (sitting in and strapped into their wheelchairs, staring off into the distance, day after day after day after day) that I described as Margie’s ministry focus? That was the question. Why are those people “still” there, while they were ready and waiting for the Lord to take them home? Most often their families wanted them to continue to live (and they shared that on their occasional visits). But most of their days their elderly family members sat in those wheelchairs receiving daily nursing care by the staff…. And, of course, daily visits by Margie, a sister in Christ, calling them by name, stroking their arms and spending time with each one.
That is what she was wondering about and what she grasped. She knew and shared with me why she and those people remained alive, what purpose they continued to offer and what gift they continued to be. I honestly don’t remember if Margie grasped her insight from the John text I quoted above, but what she said is certainly confirmed by that Scripture. She continued. “All those people who can only sit there and most often give no response and can give nothing in return, can be loved by us the way God loves them. We can love them like God loves them.” There it is in a nutshell. Peter, sliding back into his “Simon persona” (fisherman), heard Jesus describe the difference between human brotherly love and divine love. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Jesus. The first two times He asked about divine love (agapao); “Do you love me the way I loved you, sacrificially, going to the cross and dying for you?” Simon responded twice that he loved Jesus “like a brother” (phileo). Simon was sad when the third time Jesus asked him if he could only love Jesus with a human kind of love, one that depended on a response in kind. It is a love that says, “I’ll love others the way they love me back.”
Margie got it. “Phileo” would not be sufficient to offer to those who could not even respond with a “Thank you.” The action of love would be only one way, with no response in kind to those who offer brotherly love. So, it would need to be a different kind of love, a sacrificial and unconditional and unlimited (agapao) divine love. Margie experienced a deep connection to God Himself, as she brought loving care to those who could not respond. Any workers who could have God’s love for them as the foundation and basis of their daily care for those residents would be blessed. Can you hear Jesus directing His disciples with a “new” commandment? There, on the night of His betrayal, at the meal, after washing the disciples’ feet (even those of Judas), Jesus commands, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love (agapao) for one another” (John 13:34-35).
That is what we do and how we are known in the world as disciples of Jesus, co-workers with Margie. We love the way Christ has loved us (despite our being weakened by sin, enemies with God, ungodly, sinners as Paul described in Romans 5:6-10). We love those who will not or can not love us back: our enemies! We love those who have never loved us: complete strangers. We love those who cannot respond with love: like those loved by Margie. And that “divine” work with the One who loves all, will give us our purpose until the day we die.
Blessings on your ministry of divine love,
Peace in Him.