Read John 21:15-19
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
16Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
17The 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. 18I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" (NIV)
This is a wonderful image of Jesus letting Peter know that he is forgiven and restored. Peter had made the bold proclamation that though all the others may fail, he would not. But Peter not only failed to stand by Christ during his arrest and execution, but denied being a follower of him three times.
So, in being restored, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loves him. And out of this, Peter is given a task. Peter is to feed and take care of Christ’s flock. But Peter is also told that he will die a horrible death. We see loving Christ brings us a task and a cross. Jesus had told those who wish to follow him that they must take up his cross.
Now, there is some debate about what Jesus was referring to when he said, “do you love me more than these?” Most people believe Jesus is talking about the other disciples. But some point out that Jesus might have been pointing to the fishing boat and all its fishing gear. And the question, relating to the task of taking care of Jesus’ flock, is are you willing to walk away for good from your profession to do the task I am calling you. Jesus even uses the term “agape” to describe the type of love he asking Peter about. Agape is a self-sacrificing love.
Peter responds by saying he loves him using the Greek, “phileo” which refers to a brotherly/friend love. Peter says I love you as a brother. Jesus asks again, do you love me using the agape form of love. Peter a second time uses the phileo word as a response. Then Jesus asks him a third time, but changes to the phileo word for love and Peter responds a third time with the phileo word for love. Some point out that Jesus was trying to stretch Peter’s understanding of what it meant to love and follow Jesus. Our love response should be both a task and a sacrifice. And these are done freely and joyfully.
We know that Peter fulfilled this in his life and death. He never went back to fishing. He spent the rest of his life leading the church and then was crucified in the end. Do you see a task in your life as a result of the love you have for Christ? Where are you called to serve? And what have you sacrificed to follow Jesus? What have you given to Christ as a sign of your love? This is different for each person as each person has something dear they must let go of to follow Christ with all they have and are. Often the sacrifice is something to disconnect us from the old life we lived and the new life in Christ we have? Others, it is time. Others it is money.
In my time as a pastor, it is time that I see less and less being able to sacrifice for Christ. People no longer want to do things for the church that require week in and week out commitment. We serve in spurts, but not in the long haul. And the church suffers. What is Jesus asking you, “Do you love this or that more than me?” It is good to see if we have things in our life we are putting ahead of Christ.
Blessings and Peace