When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ My guess is that Jesus was referring all of these things that were there on the shore: boats, nets, fish, food, family and friends. Why did Peter deny Jesus three times in the first place? Wasn’t it to protect his skin, to protect his own life? Wasn’t it because he instinctively did not want to die? Why didn’t Peter want to die? I think it was because he, like all of us, loved life and the things of this life such as family, friends, fish, boats, nets, etc. Peter loved this life and he didn’t want to die. It is simple as that. That is why I think Peter denied Jesus in the first place. He loved the things of life way more than the possibility of his premature death.
Jesus also asks us that same basic question: Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than your family, your friends, your occupation? This is a personal question for each one of us. We, too, like Peter, will come to that time and place in our lives when Jesus will ask us that fundamental question: Do you love me more than these things and people?
He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Good. Peter has it right.
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Peter becomes the good shepherd who is to feed and care for the Christian flock. That is what the faithful church of Christ always does: feeds and cares for the flock. If you love Jesus, you feed the flock. The flock of Jesus are like little lambs and need to be fed the Word, Jesus, the Bread of life.
A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ We can hear the persistent sound of Jesus’ voice. Do you love me? This is the issue. Jesus wants to be assured that Peter loves him. Jesus is not sure about the reliability of Peter’s love and so Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you love me?”
He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus wants to be assured that he is loved, just as we often want assurance. There are times in our lives and in our spouse’s lives where we want assurance that we are truly loved more than any one else. That is what is going on in this text. Jesus wants the assurance that Peter loves him more than anything else. Jesus wants assurance from us that we love Jesus more than anything else.
Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ If you love me, take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Take care of the flock that is entrusted to you.
He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ The story is classic. Jesus is persistent.
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.’ Yes, it has proven to be true. Jesus, our Lord, does know everything.
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. That is what shepherds do. Feed the sheep. And that is what pastors also do. The word, “pastor” is a Latin word, and the word “pastor” simply means shepherd. The shepherd is to feed and care for the flock.
What does it mean for us to care for and feed the flock. That is what Jesus wants from us. We are to care for those around us in need. We are to spiritually feed each other with the Bread and wine, with the Presence of Jesus, with the Bread of life. Parents not only provide food for their children’s bellies but food for their children’s souls.
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. When you were young, you Peter could dress yourself, and were free to go about as you wanted, but now, Peter, you are getting older …
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.) Bingo. This is the point of the story. We finally got to the core. To the kernel. Jesus knows everything…including the death by which Peter was going to die, by Roman crucifixion, being lifted up onto the cross. Jesus knew that eventually, in his old age, that Simon Peter was going to die by crucifixion. It did come true. Simon Peter died a martyr’s death, on a cross, in Rome. Peter who had denied Jesus three times at the home of Caiaphus would be faithful to Jesus onto death. Jesus knew the future and prophesied about Peter’s future faithfulness and death.
After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ That is what the Resurrected Christ wants from Peter and from you and me.
Excerpt from a sermon by Rev. Edward Markquart