“Do you love me more than these?”
It’s a question that cuts to the heart. Peter had just betrayed his friendship with Jesus and his commitment to the Gospel by denying his Lord not once, but three times: “I tell you, I do not know the man you are talking about.” This is a poignant meeting of the two of them, the first time they have been alone together, since those words of betrayal were spoken. And Jesus’ words to Peter in this moment are a mixture of comfort, challenge, and warning.
So first, comfort. And this might not looking comforting on the face of it. Just as Peter had spoken words of betrayal three times, three times Jesus asks the question: “Peter, do you love me?” Yes, the question cuts to the heart, but it is also comfort, because with each asking, Jesus is healing Peter from the inside out. Healing never begins until the truth is spoken: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”
Then come words of challenge: “Feed my sheep.” 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. Never do we receive grace only for ourselves. Grace is for us, but we are meant to grace others once we’ve received it.
And then words of warning: “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. It necessarily means that we have to give up our own plans and follow God. We have to let him take us where we do not want to go, so that we can be the ones we were always supposed to be.
Jesus then summarizes all of it 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. If we follow him, there is mercy and grace and forgiveness – and challenge. That’s the life of discipleship.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!