Well, they’re supposed to, anyway. Perhaps I should put it in the imperative: Leaders, love more! I come to this conclusion not only out of common sense, but from the Scriptures, particularly the commissioning of St Peter as the leader of the apostles.
Before Jesus gave Peter his mission, He needed to receive from him the threefold declaration of his love. At first Peter may not have understood what Jesus was doing, for he was grieved that Jesus kept asking him if he loved Him. When I look at this icon of St Peter, it seems as if it were created for that moment when the Scripture says, “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him a third time, ‘Do you love Me?’” (John ), for there is both love and sorrow in his face. Perhaps at that moment Peter realized: He had to ask me three times, because I denied Him three times! Peter may have wished to weep again, this time out of gratitude for Jesus’ tenderness, because in Him even justice is manifested as love.
Back to Peter as leader. The first question Jesus asked him was: “Do you love me more than these?” The general consensus of interpretation is that Jesus was not asking Peter if he loved Him more than he loved the others, but if he loved Jesus more than they loved Jesus. This was to be a requirement for his position as leader of the apostles. More (love) is required of those to whom more (authority and responsibility) is given. That is why a leader should never compare his strengths to others’ weaknesses: he is supposed to love more, supposed to have sufficient grace to give the good example, and an account will be required of him.
Peter received a triple commission from Christ after his triple profession of love. The first is to tend or feed Jesus’ sheep. If a leader loves Jesus, he must also love what Jesus loves. So love is the foundation of ministry, of care for the flock. A shepherd who does not love is a mere hireling who flees when the flock is threatened with some danger. This is the first commission, the establishment of the role of Peter in the Church—an example for all Christian leadership.
We’ll look at the third commission next, for it is the ultimate one: martyrdom. A time will come, said Jesus, when you will not do as you please but will be led away by others—to a death that will be Peter’s final act of glorifying his beloved Lord. This was the fate of most of the apostles and of many saints and Christian leaders throughout history. The enemy always kills the leaders first.
In between the establishment of Peter’s headship in charity and his ultimate witness is the second commission: “Follow Me.” The shepherd of the sheep is still a sheep of the Shepherd. If those who would be spiritual leaders do not follow Christ, they cannot lead others. It is this personal discipleship and love of Jesus that enables Peter (and all leaders) to both tend the flock and witness to Him even unto death.
Jesus asks the all-important question not only to leaders but to all: Do you love Me? The way we answer this question, the way we live the answer, will decide the fruitfulness of our spiritual life and vocation and will prepare our place in eternity.