Do you love Jesus? It’s a common question. You’ve heard it before. I guess if you can get the answer down in the right way, you’ve got it made. Just the same, I think it’s the wrong question. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, he intended the question to set the stage for Peter to become a shepherd in his own right. So the question, however tempting is not whether we love Jesus but whether we love others as Jesus loved us.
That’s a problem. It’s an easy thing for Christians to say that they love Jesus, either because they know they are supposed to say it, or because they believe that they really do love Jesus. It is not an easy thing to love others as Jesus loved us. That requires that we pay close attention to the incarnate Christ, observing how he interacted with others. What did he do? What did he say? How did he act? Paying close attention to these things is what will guide us toward what it means to love one another as he loved us.
One thing stands out. He was fully present to each person he encountered regardless of the noise and chaos surrounding them. He was full of questions showing genuine interest in what the other wanted, was thinking or needed. More often than not he firmly but gently led others into a deeper understanding of God and the kingdom of God that was at hand. Even when addressing crowds he spoke to them in the places where they were, illustrating his points with stories invoking the common things of ordinary, daily life. He did not avoid controversy but met it head on, rarely showing his temper and even then mostly with his own closest followers.
Not long ago a colleague asked a group of clergy how they would respond to someone who wanted to know how they do what they do when face-to-face with traumatic situations. Most of them responded by giving testimony about their faith in Christ and inviting the hypothetical questioner to do the same. What would Jesus do? Not that, I suspect. The gospels lead me to think that he would have asked his petitioner to say more, prompting him or her to probe a little deeper to allow the central God question to rise to the surface and then go from there. I suppose a philosopher would call it probing for the prior question.
Loving others as Jesus loved us requires that sort of patience and willingness to meet the other in the place where they are, and you can’t meet them there unless you are willing to be there with them. That’s hard work. It’s so much easier just to say you love Jesus and let it go at that.