When I Said, “I love you.”

He looked at me…and I was forever changed.

I knew he loved me dearly, and thrice I confessed my love for him. Thrice he asked me, and boldly, I said, “Yes.” I loved him more than my family, more than my job, more than anything. I vowed my loyalty, never to leave, never to turn my back. When he was in danger, I stood beside him and fought for him. All the time that he was with me, I knew in my heart how much I loved him. But at that one moment, the single moment when I should have stood up for him, was the very moment that I chose to turn away.

“A simple fisherman turned a high-ranking dignitary in the kingdom — wouldn’t that be awesome? All my life, I only had fish to deal with, but soon, I would be dealing with men. Men who could be of less status than I was, or perhaps greater.” I smiled as the thoughts came coming in to me. But soon these fantasies of being a prominent man in the kingdom that we have all awaited for came crumbling down. As we sat there together during the night of the Passover, his words about his death came ringing back and forth in my ear. “The wine — his blood, and the bread — his body? In ‘remembrance’ of him? The King we have waited for…is going to die?? But, how come?

The prophecies couldn’t have made a mistake. They said the Messiah who was to save us from this tyrannical nations would deliver us, and He is the Messiah! I knew he is the Messiah and He said that he is! But, why die?

After having eaten, we walked towards his favorite resting place — the garden of Gethsemane. As we all walked together, I pondered over these thoughts which perplexed me. He couldn’t be serious, but he wasn’t joking either. There was a tension in his words. He spoke with the same firmness of tone he always had, but in between words I felt…grief.

I laid my back beside an olive tree, and as I sat, I looked at him from a distance. He had never been this way before, with such heaviness, with such an atmosphere of grief all over him. He asked us to pray, but how could I with all these thoughts bugging me? And indeed, as I sat there looking at him, with my thoughts wrestling up in my head, I fell asleep.

The next moment, I was startled to find people in our place of solitude. And there he was, being grabbed and arrested by armed men with clubs and swords. “This wasn’t right!” I thought. “This shouldn’t be!” And so in the midst of the turmoil I grabbed my sword and cut whatever I could reach out to. “An ear. I struck a mere ear, for God’s sake! How I wished I have stubbed that man right in the face! No one can dare take him from us just like that!” I ranted and fought amidst the arms that held me, but soon everything became a blur to me. The men were coming towards us wanting to arrest us too, and he was there, submitting himself without a fight, leaving us — leaving us with no choice, but to run — run away from him.

But I wasn’t to let go that easily. I gave him my word. I gave him my vow. And so I secretly followed the men who took him from us. There in the courtyard of the high priest’s palatial home, I boldly entered. I wanted to know how things would turn out. I wanted to find out what would happen. But I was mistaken. I did not find out what happened. Instead, I found myself.

“I do not know that man! I swear; I was not with him!” Those words which this mouth uttered grew louder and louder into my ears. At the sound of the third crow of the rooster, I was there looking up at him when he looked at me from the window. He looked at me, and I saw myself. I saw myself looking out from eyes that begin to flood with tears as I ran out of the courtyard crying. It was in his eyes, when I saw how the strong man that I presumed myself to be, was nothing but a mere façade to cover up the weakness of the wretched man that I really was.

Where has my love for him taken me? While his flesh was torn off from the bones by the lead-whip that dug deep into his skin; while the blood of the lacerations of his body came flowing out of his body; while dust, dirt and rust infiltrated his wounds as he grappled at every beating; while the mockery of people struck his heart like swords and daggers; while he held his mouth shut at the taunts and the spits of the undignified people; while he fell beneath the weight of his cross and cried heavily for pain; while he refused the drugged myrrh offered him to be fully conscious of pain and suffering; while rusting nails pierced his hands and feet sending torment up and down his spines; while ropes fastened around his skin wounded deeper his already tortured arms; while he endured anguish and pain as his body dangled on a piece of wood for hours; while he sweat, bled, panted and wept; he was there…thinking of me.

While I, in the silence of my chambers, had nothing in exchange but the tears of shame and grief that flooded and confronted my whole being.

I wanted to say I’m sorry. I wanted to ask for forgiveness. But how, when or where, I did not know. He died as he said he would, and I was left with nothing but guilt and shame. But more than that, I didn’t know if I was deserving of his forgiveness. I know I was not, but I was willing to give it a try, only if I would be given the chance to do so.

Until one day, some women brought the news that he was alive! One of the women noted the angel’s specific instructions: “tell his disciples and Peter.” “And me?” I was dumbfounded at the mention of my name. “He wanted me to know? He remembered me! He called me by my name! No, not my old name, but the name he gave me — Peter! He called me by my name!” Dying for his forgiveness, I came rushing to the tomb where he was placed, but…was I too late again? He wasn’t there…no longer there.

Weeks had passed, and I knew he was alive. He had appeared before us, and he made true his promise of coming back from death. But my understanding was rather narrowed, and I did not understand what all this meant. The words I wanted to tell him faded out slowly, never to be heard by his ears. Soon, my hopes were all withered, and it was then that I found myself back at the shore of the sea.

Casting my net on that vast expanse of water seemed a too familiar task, but not as pleasant as I knew it before. All night we repeated this dreary task, but fruitless it proved to be. Much of my life has been spent on this sea, and at the time when I thought I would be forever leaving it in exchange for something better, it was then that that one failure seemed to have turned everything around. It was a single chance which I sought to have — a chance which I thought I would never had.

As I stood on the boat in the darkness of the dawn, thinking of what was to happen to my life, I was suddenly alarmed by a very familiar voice. Upon the realization that it was indeed him, I suddenly jumped into the water and off to the shore — away from the sea, and into his arms.

As I look back, I remembered that morning, when he had not asked me for an explanation of my transgression, but rather a confession of my love. Thrice he asked me, and thrice I answered him back. I couldn’t have known it back then, but now I understood better.

When he asked me the first time if I love him, he was asking how much I was willing to let go of everything that I held in my hand. When he asked me the second time if I love him, he was asking how much I was willing to reach out these empty hands to those whom he loved. And when he asked me the third time if I love him, he asked me how much I would be willing to go out of my comfort zone and ACT OUT the love which I profess to have.

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens

Thrice, I answered yes, but in those three times, I knew not the fullness of the meaning of the words which I uttered. It was only at this moment, this very moment when crucified head down here on the Roman cross that I finally figured them out.

Love, I realized, is more than a confession which one utters. It is more than an emotion which one feels. More than a word floating in the air, more than a promise touching one’s heart and ears.

Love is tangible, and it is in this tangibility that love is made real. The love that we profess should be as real, and as tangible as the suffering that this world has; otherwise, it wouldn’t bear any meaning. Love that is confined in the comforts of our own fences, of our own churches, of our own houses, of our own selfish lives is not love at all, but a mere pretension; a façade which sooner or later shall expose the weakness of the foundation it grounds itself in.

After all that I have gone through, one thing I’ve learned, and one thing I’ll carry off with me as I hang here dying. There will come a time in our lives when we would cease to question God’s love for us, but rather seek to question the love that we have for Him. And that remains one of the hardest question to answer, and the hardest test to pass.

“Feed my sheep, feed my sheep… Feed my sheep.” he uttered.

“Yes, Lord, you know that Peter loves you. You know how much I love you…”