When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? (John 21:15)
I can feel it. There are words that cannot be said, but it is in everyone’s minds as we sit here by the lake with our Master.
Outwardly everything looks the same. Last time we even went fishing together. And now that the Lord has appeared to us we are sitting here like before. We eat and hold on to his every word as he speaks to us words of comfort and wisdom—words from God’s own mouth.
But it’s no use. Something has changed, at least with respect to me. For days past I’ve noticed the unexpressed thought that they all have. The doubt. The distance.
There he goes again. I’ve just caught James looking at me. He looks away whenever I catch him, but eventually he glances at me, looks me over, and then looks at the Master by whose side I sit. I know what he is thinking—I am unworthy to be counted among them. I’ve forfeited my right to sit by the Master’s side and break bread together like before. I’ve cut myself off from the intimate fellowship I was once part of.
You see, I denied the Master. I who said I would die for him and with him if necessary invoked curses and oaths a few hours later and denied my beloved Master. Praise God He is alive . . . but things aren’t the same. Nothing can ever be the same. The other ten distrust me. I am no better than Judas who betrayed him.
And then the Master suddenly changes the direction of the conversation. Right in front of them he turns to me and asks.
Do you love me—more than these?
The others sit still. When was the last time I flushed with embarrassment? When was the last time I was at a loss for words? I’ve never experienced this before. I dare no longer express so violent and boastful an affection.
He asks me this three times. At last, my heart shatters when I see the significance of the number—for the number of times I denied him. Can it be too late? Too late to make my Master and my Lord believe that I love him?
And yet . . . I have nothing to offer but the humble love of one who no longer dares to boast and strut around in self assurance. I have nothing to make him believe the depth of my affection, my gratitude, and unshaken belief that he is, indeed, the son of God.
That old bloke is gone, my Lord, and in its stead is just me, Simon whom you called Peter, looking beyond myself to become the man you wanted me to become. And I’m so desperately hoping you will believe me. You know everything.
And that is enough. You take me back, and by your grace I am restored into close communion with you and my fellow brothers, my new family. Yes, I failed. Not once, but many times. But you, oh Lord, make all things new.
Restored to you, called once more to your service, and entrusted with a mission.
Yes, Lord. I will follow you. Use me to feed your lambs and tend to your sheep.