John 21 Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
This is one of my favorite encounters between Jesus and one of his disciples. Of course, Peter had denied Jesus three times, and now he had seen Jesus three times since he rose from the dead. Once at the tomb, once when Jesus walked into the dinner the disciples were having, and now when he met them on the beach. Jesus knew that Peter needed some attention. I am sure Peter was still having feelings of guilt and shame when he saw Jesus. After all he had pledged to follow Jesus, even unto his death, and did exactly the opposite.
But I love the way Jesus handles his reunion with Peter. He asks him first, "Do you love me more than these?" We might assume he is referring to his livelihood in the fishing business. Peter replies, "You know I love you more than these." Then, he asks him a second time. This seems more personal and maybe alludes to what had happened before. Peter assures him that he loves him. And for a second time Jesus says, "Feed my sheep." It's as if Jesus is saying, "If you love me then show my love by shepherding others."
Finally, for a third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. The Greek word he uses for this time is "agape", different than the "phileo" he used before. "Agape" in Greek means, "unrequited, sacrificial love". It is the same love that required Jesus to lay down his life for us. 1 John says, "No greater love is there than this that one lay down his life for his friends" Jesus wants to know if Peter loves him this much and would he be willing to lay down his life if called to.
So why did Jesus ask him three times? Was he getting back at him? Was it for him, or for Peter? I prefer the latter. Jesus without a doubt wanted to reinstate Peter as his chief apostle, but wanted to make sure he understood what that meant. Jesus knew what was in Peter when he called him by the seashore, and asked him to drop his nets and follow him. Ironically enough this is the same place Jesus reinstates his call and restores his confidence.
I love the way Jesus handles Peter, because he knows Peter's heart. He sees that in spite of the bad decisions Peter had made, his motives were good. He just needed to learn from his mistakes, so he could be a better leader. Jesus knew that these lessons had prepared for to be the type of leader he would need to be to carry on the mission he had started. How has Jesus used your failings to help prepare you for what he has called you to do? Do you really love Jesus? More than these? Then feed the sheep he brings into your life.