Can You Hear Me Now?

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by Tim Schenck

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17

We are a thick-headed people — at least when it comes to receiving messages. This isn’t an evil thing, but a human thing. We need to hear the same message over and over again before it sinks in.

Advertisers figured this out long ago. We aren’t given a single shot to hear the McDonald’s jingle. We’re bombarded with it until it’s embedded into the deep recesses of our brains and we’re convinced that we are, indeed, “Lovin’ it.”

So did politicians. We don’t receive a single mailing about a candidate’s credentials. We’re pummeled with radio and TV spots, billboards, bumper stickers, e-mails, and candidates are told by their handlers to stay “on message” at all times.

Jesus knows this as well. Which is why he asks Peter three times whether he loves him and tells him three times to feed his sheep. He wants the message to sink in. He wants the message to enter deep into Peter’s soul. And the only way for this to happen is to say it over and over and over again.

When it comes to truly taking something to heart, repetition is important. If you listen to the readings from John throughout Eastertide — both his gospel and epistles — you start to discern that Jesus might just want us to learn something about love. All that talk about abiding in love and loving others and God is love and love casts out fear and love is perfected in us and, oh by the way, did I mention that you should love one another as I have loved you?

All this love talk is repetitive because it matters. And it’s a message we need to hear again and again and again.

It’s also something we need to practice. When my second grade teacher handed me that sheet bearing the multiplication tables, I thought I’d never learn them all. But you chip away at it and eventually they stick. I was never a great math student (fortunately in my vocational life I only need to count to three), but I did know my multiplication tables and still do. They’ve stayed with me over the years because of the repetition — at home and on quizzes.

In the same way, we need to internalize Jesus’ message of unconditional love — for ourselves and others — by hearing it often and anew.

Why not learn a prayer by heart today? There are many brief, beautiful prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. Spend the time it takes to commit it to memory. Let it seep deep into your soul so it’s always accessible. Then pray it — over and over again!


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