15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-18
Can you imagine what Peter must have been thinking during this confrontation with Jesus? We get one small glimpse of his heart from John’s gospel, that he was hurt because Jesus asked him the same question three times. But I’m guessing that the depth of emotion is more than we can fully understand. Here he is sitting across from Jesus eating a breakfast that Jesus cooked for him. But this is definitely a confrontation between the Lord and Simon Peter.
Was it hard for him to swallow each bite? Was his mouth dry? Was he nervous? Did he find it difficult to make eye contact? Did he have any idea what was coming?
Have you ever screwed up in a relationship? Done something or said something stupid that ended up hurting your best friend or maybe your spouse? Do you remember what it was like the next time you saw that person face to face? The physical reaction of your body, the racing of your mind because maybe you were thinking you might be able to lessen the hurt or guilt by justifying or rationalizing your words or your actions.
This is only the third time that Peter has seen Jesus since Jesus was resurrected. The first time was in a group of other disciples in a locked room. We don’t know about the second time. But I’m guessing that this third time is the first time that Jesus and Peter are sitting together like they did before Jesus died. What an incredibly powerful and probably overwhelming moment, facing his friend, his Lord, that he betrayed.
I cannot begin to imagine what went through Peter’s mind, his soul, or his heart as he looked into the eyes of Jesus as Jesus asked him, Do you love me? All I know is that if I were Peter, I would find it difficult to look him in the eye, but at the same time I’d want to throw my arms around his neck and tell him how much I love him.
Instead, Peter endures his Lord asking him the same simple question three times. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Peter denied Jesus three times on the night Jesus was arrested and here he is given the opportunity to profess his love for Jesus three times as they walk the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As is Jesus’ way, he and Peter are removed from the group. It is just the two of them for this reinstatement, this re-affirmation of love.
Jesus showed Peter this same compassion during Peter’s walk on the Sea of Galilee when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink in the raging waves. Without a word and without any hesitation, Jesus reached out and steadied Peter on the water’s surface, and then, before he helped Peter back into the boat, Jesus rebuked him, You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?
Of course, compassion aside, it’s pretty clear that this moment is a turning point for Peter. Jesus does not call him by the name Peter during this confrontation; he calls him Simon. Peter is not the Rock upon which Jesus will build the church. Not right now. Right now, Peter is Simon, son of John, a fisherman who got scared and made choices based on his fear not on his faith.
So, here, on this familiar sandy shore where Simon Peter spent so much of his life, Jesus gives him the opportunity to choose differently. Jesus gives him the opportunity to become the Rock again, to become Peter. Jesus does everything in his power to set Peter up for success if Peter is willing to choose it. Because ultimately, it is Peter’s choice.
Ultimately, it is our choice, isn’t it?
And ultimately, like Peter, we all must be confronted by the Savior at some point. We must be given the opportunity to choose differently, to choose based on faith, not on fear. To choose to follow him even after we have denied him.
Jesus can do everything in his power to set us up for success, but it’s up to us to accept the opportunity, to claim it, to take it and say, yes, I will be the Rock upon which you can build your church. I will be the man, the woman, the faithful follower upon whom you can depend to spread your Good News, to reflect your grace and mercy, to live out a life worthy of the gospel of you, my Savior and my King.
Yes, I will do my part to build your Kingdom with my dream. This dream that you have given to me and that you are setting up for my success. And I will not be afraid, but instead, I will trust you. I will not deny you, I will defend you. I will stand firm beside you. I will.
But first, he asks me one seemingly simple question, Do you love me?
The first time he asks the question, I, like Peter, respond without a beat, Yes, you know I do.
Because he does, doesn’t he? He’s God, after all. Surely he knows that I love him, but I’ll tell him any way.
But then, he asks us again, Do you love me?
And again, I respond without a pause, Yes, you know I do.
Yet still, this is not enough? He asks again? A third time?
This time, his words pierce my heart, and I know this isn’t about him or what he knows, it’s about me and what I believe. I look at him, I look into his gentle, soul-searching eyes and tell him, Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.
And now, I know, too. I know what it means to follow you. I know what it’s going to take. I know that this will not be easy, but it will be worth it. And this time, this time I choose faith. I choose to accept the dream you have given to me and to follow it no matter the risk or the fear.
I choose you, Jesus. I choose to follow you and to take on whatever that brings, no matter how afraid I may be or how much doubt I may face.
So, what about you? Have you been confronted by Jesus in your Galilee? Has he asked something of you that you wondered whether you could give? Know that he is bigger than any doubt or fear you face. If he’s asking you if you are willing, risk telling him yes and then watch what happens. And, please, share your fears, your confrontation and your risks in the comments. Let’s take this journey together.