There was a first grade teacher who was trying to get the attention of a few the little boys in her class who were not paying attention in class. Most had settled down when she asked them to so. They quieted down and watched as she wrote the next few letters of the alphabet they were learning that day. But there was one child in particular who just couldn’t settle down to the lessons. In a final attempt to get him to pay attention, she went to him, gently took his face in her hands and repeated what she had said to the others in a very pointed and personal way. It was a gentle scolding meant to get his sights solely on her and what she was saying to him. It worked.
Then she turned back to writing on the blackboard. Suddenly she felt a tug on her skirt. As she turned around and looked down, there stood another little boy gazing up at her. What is it? she asked him. e He replied, talk to me like that.
The second little boy had seen the teacher show what we might call ‘touch love’ to his classmate and he wanted someone to talk to him like that as well.
Peter is like those little boys who act first and think later. And Jesus is trying to get his attention. Trying to get him to look at him and know what he is saying to him. Understand what he is asking of him. Peter is all ‘sure’, ‘of course’, ‘you know I do’. But it takes him being asked three times by Jesus if he loves him for Peter to get the full weight of what Jesus is asking. It is as if Jesus has Peter’s face in his hands and very badly wants him to bring his entire self and his complete attention to Jesus.
And I think that one of the lessons here is that what Jesus asks above all else is for us to love him. It is a more important question than who do you say that I am? Knowing (fully) who Jesus is isn’t fully comprehended by the disciples before Easter (nor us after Easter). And after Easter it would seem that this questions falls away as he shows himself to his disciples, friends and family as a living presence. It seems important for Jesus to be with them and show them that he is indeed real. That his return to life is about his abiding love for those he had been given (and we are those he has been given as well) and what he asks in the final analysis, in one of his final moments on earth, is that we, like Peter, understand the significance of the question. So her repeats it. Perhaps we do not have to know him fully or even understand everything he said and did. For if we can answer ‘Yes, Lord, I love you.’ He has heard all that he needs to hear from us.
Perhaps he asks the question of us many times in our lives, like he did Peter. When we have become distracted, fearful, worried, confused. He calls our attention back to the only lesson we need to learn, the only thing we need to know, when he asks do you love me?