When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Today’s gospel is all about LOVE. Jesus begins by asking Peter a difficult question, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” I can’t even imagine the intensity of Jesus facing Peter in this encounter and I wonder what it was like for Peter to face the risen Lord in this intimate moment. Much has taken place since the resurrection. Life has changed. The life that Peter and the other disciples had known for three years with Jesus would not be their new reality. They had literally been separated from that life experience. The call that originally moved them to follow Jesus and live in a new way now had to be renewed and adapted for the days to come. The risen Jesus understood this. In the interaction reflected in our gospel, Jesus wanted Peter to know that His love for him was not gone and Peter needed that assurance.
There will be times when we will feel separated from Jesus, but the good news is that Jesus never gives up on us – His love is never-ending. It will be in response to this love, that Peter is called to feed and tend to God’s beloved. We too demonstrate love for Jesus by faithfully caring for His sheep. This is the mission to which we are called as we face the new reality of living together under the shadow of a pandemic, no longer ignoring or looking past the injustices and inequalities present in our communities.
This is love as courage, love as risk, love as not wavering, regardless of what we are called to do. Jesus ends his conversation with the words, “follow me,” but he started with love, a love that will help us find our way. Jesus calls Peter and us, as individuals and as communities of faith, to follow him even where we would not otherwise go, even where we might not want to go. Jesus never said that following him would be easy, but he calls us to tend to his sheep and feed his lambs all for love.
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)