Jesus’ words to Peter in this Gospel reading are a mixture of comfort, challenge, and warning. Peter, who had messed up in his relationship with Jesus time and time again, had just messed up in the worst way possible by denying his friend not once but three times. But then comes the question not once but three times: “Peter, do you love me?” This is comfort because with each asking, Jesus is healing Peter from the inside out.
Then words of challenge: “Feed my sheep.” Grace is never just for us. When we are forgiven or graced in any way, we, like Peter, are then challenged to do something about it. Feed my sheep, follow me, give me your life, come to know my grace in a deeper way.
And then words of warning: “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” When we give ourselves over to God, that necessarily means that we might have to go in a direction we might not otherwise choose.
But then Jesus brings Peter back to comfort and healing once again by saying “Follow me.” No matter what we disciples have done in our past, no matter how many times we have messed up or in what ways, there is always forgiveness if we give ourselves over to our Savior and our friend. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences or that life will be easy. We too may be challenged and hear words of warning. But we will never stop hearing the invitation, “Follow me.”