Three years before this, Peter had been personally called by Jesus. “Follow me,” Jesus had told him, “and I will make you a fisher of men”. Upon that invitation, Peter had immediately abandoned his nets, and his family’s business, to follow this master. That was the last time Peter had been fishing. Now, after Jesus’ death, it seems that everything is lost. They could have been three beautiful years, but now it’s back to normal. “I’m going fishing”, Peter tells his friends in today’s gospel. And the others follow suit.
It is within this context of sadness and disillusion that Jesus comes to visit these men. To make matters worse, these master fishermen seem to have even lost their touch in their trade. Having been fishing all night, they caught nothing. Being so engrossed in their self-pity, they could not recognize Jesus when he approached them.
What Jesus does on this occasion is simply beautiful. First, he forces the disciples to be in touch with their own weakness, simply by stating the obvious: “you have caught nothing, have you?”. Then he gives them a hand, by asking them to cast the nets again. This time the catch is extraordinary! He also prepares breakfast for them while they are doing this. Here they understand that it is Jesus. Only Jesus can show so much care towards people who had abandoned him when he needed them most! And after breakfast we have what is probably one of the most beautiful and tender scenes in the gospels.
Jesus and Peter find some time to be alone on the beach. Jesus puts a simple, and yet very loaded, question to Peter: Do you love me? And then he repeats it for another couple of times. For three times, Peter answers in the affirmative, but we could tell that by the third time he gets a little bit nervous. Surely, his triple-denial was still very vivid in his mind, and we can only imagine the sense of guilt and shame experienced in that moment. Still, Jesus wanted to assure Peter that, in spite of the latter’s sin, nothing has changed in their relationship. “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep” Jesus tells Peter. No reference to the past. As far as Jesus is concerned, Simon Peter is still going to be the leader of the group, the rock on which everything is to hold. If anything, his moment of weakness would eventually serve him to better understand the weak and wounded sheep within the flock, those who would need more care. Compassion had to be a distinctive mark of this rock.
“Do you love me?”. This is the question we are invited to ponder on during these coming days. The question is not whether I have been good, or whether I have made mistakes. Do I sincerely love Him? The rest will follow.