'No one is as good and merciful as the Lord. But even He does not forgive the unrepentant.' - St. Mark the Ascetic
(Gospel Text: Jn 21:15-19)
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a 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. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
In Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, three ghosts take Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey through his past, present, and future in the hope that he will turn his life around. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus takes Peter on a similar journey, and the result is just as dramatic.
After orchestrating yet another miraculous catch of fish, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15). In this exchange, Jesus is reminding Peter of the zeal he showed the first time Jesus helped him bring in a large haul. He is also recalling Peter’s earnest boast that he would never abandon Jesus—a boast that proved false, as he denied knowing him three times (13:37; 18:15-27).
As for the present, Jesus is assuring Peter that he is completely forgiven: Peter is free from any guilt or fear he may be carrying because of his past. Now, his day-to-day life can be filled with a deep experience of God’s mercy and love.
And then there’s Peter’s future. By telling him, “Feed my sheep,” Jesus is affirming his plans to make Peter into the “rock” on which he will build his Church (John 21:17; Matthew 16:18). Despite his threefold denial, Peter can still look forward to an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus and loving service to the whole Church.
By building his Church on a flawed man like Peter, Jesus is saying that there is hope for everyone. Peter may have hesitated and fled, but Jesus welcomed him back. If he didn’t give up on someone who failed him so spectacularly, why would he ever give up on you?
We all fall away. We have all denied Jesus in one way or another—and we may well do it again in the future. But Jesus never stops loving us. He never stops seeking us out and inviting us back.
So go to the Lord in Confession. Let his words, spoken in love and acceptance, ring in your heart: “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11)!