“Jesus said to Peter the third time: ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that He asked him the third time … he said, ‘Lord, You know everything: You know I love You.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed My sheep.’”
The disciples in their disappointment, despondency and despair have returned to their fishing duty, and are gradually beginning to accept their condition of losing their Master to the betrayal of a friend, the injustice of the people and the weakness of Pilate. They returned to what they were doing before Jesus met them. In the Gospel (John 21: 1-19), John narrates very dramatically the occasion of Jesus’ third appearance to His disciples since after His resurrection. It is very palpable that the disciples are still very confused at the reality of the Resurrection, or perhaps, still very uncertain what exactly was happening. “None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord” (John 21: 12). This unfolds the mind-set of the disciples here. As in the two previous cases, Jesus patiently takes His time to demonstrate another proof of His Resurrection in order to convince them of the fact that He is truly Risen and truly Alive! The unfolding episode is quite exciting as it is didactic.
The Three Questions: By the first “charcoal fire” Peter was asked three times if he was not one of Jesus’ disciples: “Are not you also one of His disciples?” (John 18: 17, 25, 26). And three times he denied it: “I am not!” By the second “charcoal fire”, Peter stands face-to-face with his Master, whom he denied. Can you imagine the guilt, the gloominess, the downcast look of Peter when he heard those words fall from his Master’s lips: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these? Peter’s answer does not have the initial audacity, flare and confidence that was characteristic of him, for here he answers: “Lord, You know, (You know everything) I love You.” One can easily sense the grieve here. He seems to be saying to Jesus, “Lord, You know I love You, but You know I am weak.” The reliance on Jesus for strength is palpable, that sense of dependence on Christ is forthright and this is what was lacking initially. Whenever, we rely on ourselves, trusting ourselves to be able to do it all, we are bound to fail. The task of feeding the Lord’s lamb and tending His sheep was to be carried out in total dependence on the grace of God. Jesus had to patiently bring Peter into this chamber of humility and reliance on God before He could be restored to His position of leadership – head of the apostolic college, the primus inter pares. This is the mercy of God in Christ, that when He forgives, He restores us to our initial position of grace. God does not deny us what He has given to us because we have sinned, but we deny ourselves those blessings when we refuse to ask His forgiveness and receive His mercy.
This is the message of the resurrection that though we are sinners, God has loved us so much to send His Son to die for us, and raised Him from the dead, so that we may have our sins forgiven, and empowered by that same love and forgiveness to go out and do the same with all men and women around us. To this, we are witnesses, are you?