Tevje Needed to Know
An eery discomfort links the two famous questions.
Tevje, in Fiddler on the Roof, bluntly asks his wife: “Do you love me?”
How can it not remind you of Jesus, in John 21, using the very same words to put Peter on the spot: “Do you love me?”
It’s easy to identify with both Tevje’s wife Golde and with Peter. Golde memorably — and self-righteously — responds: “For twentyfive years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cow. After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?”
Peter also wants to dodge what seems to be an overly intrusive question. He stalls and bounces the ball back to Jesus. “Lord, you know I do,” he says, joining Golde in clever avoidance mode.
What links the two contexts is the call to go beyond the external structure of things and to probe deeply, getting intensely personal. Apart from all appearances, both Tevje and Jesus are asking, what’s going on in your heart? Jesus, we should note for the record, had considerably more standing to ask such a question than Tevje did.