This beach was different than any other. The entire area was covered with black basalt rocks and sand. The water lapping up on the beach cast a curious dark hue on the shore. The gray sky and gray water combined to make a one-dimensional horizon.
I bent down to feel the black sand and the cool water lapped at my shoes. It was a peaceful place. We were at the Sea of Galilee in Tabgha, Israel. This is the historical site of Jesus' reinstating Peter after his denial.
Slowly the words of scripture came back. In my mind’s eye I tried to hear these two in dialogue, recorded in John 21:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Ouch! What a question. Peter’s heart must have been stinging as he remembered the denial.
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
The water softly lapped the shore. I imagined the silence while Peter tried to make sense out of Jesus’ words.
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Twice! Not again, Lord. You must know how this hurts me.
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
Feed and care for others, Lord? What about me? I need care, too. Your love and your care.
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.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter was hurt, it says, even while knowing that he had denied the Lord three times. He knew that he had fled from his Lord the night of the trial. He knew that he had wept bitterly after hearing the rooster.
At that moment the black sand became a symbol of the bleakness of my sin. It reminded me of my many denials, too. My heart grieved for what Peter’s denial had cost Jesus, but more so what it had cost Peter - a dialogue of this kind with Jesus, the kind that exposes just how much he knows about us, and yet just how deep his love goes to restore.
Notice how lovingly Jesus calls Peter back. He did not remind Peter of his denial. He simply asks for a confession of love, three times no less. One time for each denial.
Peter more than recovered from this interaction, in fact, he went on to carry out Jesus’ command to become a shepherd of souls. He nobly died a martyr's death. This interaction gives me hope.
I left that beach with a new understanding of my Lord’s gentleness, kindness, and loving nature. He calls back those who have denied him. He doesn’t rub in our selfish snubs. He merely wants reassurance of our steadfast love.
"Do you love me more than these?"
Jesus wants to know that we, like Peter, love him more than these. These things around us, these homes, these traditions, these friends, these family members, these accolades we crave from the world, these skills, these jobs.
The question every believer must consider is this: how will we answer? Do we truly love him more than these?