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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Jesus asked Peter: Do you love me?
Having spent some days reflecting on different aspects of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples at the Last Supper, today we move to the very end of John’s gospel. We have moved from the time when Jesus foretold Peter’s denial of having known him, to the moment of their reconciliation and healing.
In this familiar encounter between the risen Jesus and Peter, there is a very human moment for us to pause and consider. Peter’s triple denial of Jesus outside the court of the High Priest is matched by Jesus asking the question, Do you love me? … three times. It is after Jesus asks for the third time that we see an unjustified bout of human petulance. We read that Peter felt hurt. Three times Jesus was denied by Peter, just as had been predicted, and yet we are told that Peter felt hurt.
Jesus was healing a wound, closing an unfortunate chapter in their relationship. The three denials were absolved by the three declarations of love, and yet, Peter felt hurt!
Despite his very human hurt and impatience at being asked the same thing three times we need to then reflect on what followed. Jesus did not turn to Peter and say, ‘Never mind, all is forgotten.’ Instead, Jesus honoured Peter’s call to be the rock upon which his Church would be built. Jesus demonstrated their moment of reconciliation by re-commissioning Peter, by instructing him to care for and to feed his lambs and his sheep.
We struggle with forgiveness and reconciliation. Just think of that moment in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We view forgiveness as something that has to be ‘earned’, rather than as a demonstration of Godly love, of living out our faith by sharing in the Christ-like forgiveness we see in today’s reading. Surely, this is not the way Jesus wants us to travel. Jesus wants us to set aside all that is negative and to move forward in hope and joy.
Jesus was denied and yet he forgave. Jesus asked for Peter’s declaration of love in order that Peter might be cleansed of the negative aftermath of that unfortunate moment in the gospel narrative. Jesus reassured Peter that he was still loved and trusted with something very precious: the future ministry of sharing the Good News with all.
Let us pray that we might not be bogged down with feelings of hurt and resentment. And, let us pray that we may recognize and respond to God’s love by sharing the Good News entrusted to Peter after that most human of moments some two thousand years ago.