The Reading: John 21:15-17
“… he said to him the third time …” (v.17) RSV
Peter sadly failed Jesus during his trial; he denied him three times. He did this while warming himself over a charcoal fire. We now see him approaching Jesus on the shore whilst he was cooking fish on a charcoal fire. Smell is a very strong sense and links occasions and triggers memories. The fire on the shore brought back to Peter his three denials of Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter was still staggering under the burden of guilt, and the subject had to be broached.
His first question was “Do you love (agape i.e. sacrificial love) me more than these?” (v.15) Peter had claimed that even if all the other disciples failed him, he would not. Manifestly, he had not loved Jesus more than the other disciples had. Peter replied “You know that I love (phileo i.e. human friendship) you.
The second time, Jesus asked him, “Do you love (agape) me?” (v.16). In other words, forgetting about others, can you, Peter, say you love (agape) me? Peter replied, as he did each time, “Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you”. Peter knew that he had not loved with agape, but loved with phileo.
The third time Jesus asked him, “Do you love (phileo) me?” (v.17). Peter was grieved with this question. He was not grieved that Jesus had asked the same question three times (for he had not), but that “the third time” he had asked him a different question. That time he was querying whether Peter had even loved him as a friend. Peter’s reply was adamant. “You know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you” (v.17).
Jesus wants us too to face the past honestly. Only when we acknowledge our limitations as well as our sins, can he open the way for a better future. Peter was restored and re-commissioned: “Feed/tend my lambs/sheep” (vv. 15-17). This he will do for us too.
Thank you Lord that you give me a future and a hope. Amen.
1 What had Jesus taught Peter about forgiveness?
2 How would Peter show love (agape) to Jesus?