This conversation between Jesus and Peter is reminiscent of some that I had with my parents as a child. They would ask "Do you love me?" and as an angsty teen who felt like they asked this question way too often I would reply "Of course! You know that!" When people we love ask this question over and over again, we tend to get frustrated. We begin to tell ourselves: "Why are they asking that question?" ‘I show them every day, they should know this by now.’ Peter at the end of this Gospel is no stranger to this sentiment. While in our humanness may ask this question for reassurance, this is not Jesus’ intent.
The Gospel today comes during the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. Looking at this story through the eyes of Peter, I would worry that I would be reprimanded for my denial of Him. However, Jesus doesn’t approach Peter in a resentful or condescending way, but as a friend. Jesus asks Simon Peter three times "Do you love me?" which seems to absolve Peter of his denial before Jesus was put to death. Not only does he come at Peter in this loving way, but he gives him the task of ministering to his flock. Peter is given this important and awesome role by Jesus even with his full knowledge that Peter is not perfect. This is reassuring and refreshing in two ways: 1) I do not have to be perfect to serve the Kingdom of God and 2) Jesus loves me, no matter how often I fail. This does not mean that I do not strive to be a better person or do better things with my life; on the contrary it means I get back up and do better.
Like most that are called by Jesus, we may have said that we can’t or we’re not worthy. We know from the Letters of Peter that he went on to teach and preach to others on how to live their lives for God. "Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing" (1 Peter 3:8-9). It can be surprising and baffling when we look back on our life and see the growth that God has allowed to take place within us. Reflecting on the gifts that have been bestowed upon us no matter our resistance shows God’s great love for us. A growth that has prepared us for the leadership that we are called to within the Church. The only appropriate response for us to give is "Yes Lord, I love you."
Kim Valdez in a Pastoral Associate at Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center in Houston, Texas