“The 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’.”
~John 21:17 (NIV).
What is possibly going on here? Is Jesus hard of hearing, trying to make a point or just going on like a broken record? The second point is true it seems.
And what of Peter? The Lord he’d only just recently betrayed; now this Lord he loves is making him feel really guilty for denying knowing him three times? Is this some sadistic joke? Enough already!
The Grace of God Manifest in Eternal Patience
God never gets angry with us in our failures-of-effort to keep to the holy standard.
Jesus can be seen here humbly making his point without the faintest desire of impatience. He must make his point, impressing on Peter a most crucial missional charge: “Feed my lambs...”
Apart from the method of God—to get through to us patiently; never giving up—we see here how important this little interchange between Messiah and Apostle is. The very destiny of the Church, as far as human hands is concerned, depends on this little and loyal conversation.
Back to those infernal questions... Once is okay. Twice is getting us to question. Three times is repetition and the tedium begs within us: why?
There is a purpose in Jesus’ repetitive questioning. It not only shows his patience—a core quality of the teacher—and it wasn’t only an imperative for the future of the Church, but indeed, it was for Peter’s restoration that Jesus takes him through a personal lesson of grace.
Repentance and Restoration
What is restoration about if not the ability to make right wrongs?
Peter had clearly repented; increasingly as this conversation continued the stakes are raised, Jesus honing in upon Peter’s heart, and Peter responds each time in congruence, as if to say, “I love nobody or nothing like I love you, Lord.”
But repentance is always incomplete without the ability to actually implement what we desire to do. Jesus was not only seeking to restore Peter, he was charging him with the most important job ever—to construct, in God’s name, an order for the Christianising of the entire world.
What a restorative call that was!
And, for us, where does it leave us?
We’re never to forget the patience of love in the Lord our God; to address our faults patiently and tenderly—to give us opportunities to not only repent, but to be restored through cheerful service in the name, and to the glory, of God.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.