Do you love me?
The simplest questions are sometimes the hardest. Do you love me? It could be the question a wife asks a husband, or a mother a child. It could be the question for the eve of a wedding, or after decades of marriage. And it is such a heavily laden question, not because of the answer, but because of the reason for asking.
It is a question which seeks reassurance, which yearns reconciliation. Normally, love asks no questions: Love only declares itself. I love you, wife and husband, mother and child say to one another. But to turn this into a question - now that is unsettling.
And we know why Jesus asks. Why three times he asks. Not because he doubts Peter’s love. Not because he needs to be reassured. No, in this case it is not the questionner who has needs to be put at ease, but the one who is asked the question. Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Peter refused to acknowledge him. Three times he spurned his allegiance to him. And when the cock crowed, Peter wept. Wept for the love he had denied. Broken hearted, like any rejected lover - yet the act of rejection was his, and his alone.
This threefold declaration of Love is Peter’s penance, his forgiveness, his reconciliation. Each protest of his love is the healing of his offence. And this wounded and broken apostle is exalted to such great trust and responsibility - feed my sheep, Jesus says. The task he is given is a measure of his restoration: because only those who truly know their own weakness and frailty, only those who know their sins and show contrition, they, only they, are fully ready to receive the wonderful Gift of his Risen Love, and share that great gift, as a shepherd cares for his flock.