Do you love me?

He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the 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.”

John 21:1-19

April 29, 2022, Words By: Jenna Smith, Image By: unknown

Made Flesh

When was the Last Supper? 

One of my theology professors, Olivier Bauer, enjoyed playing with this question. His students would automatically answer, “Jesus’ Last Supper was in the upper room on the evening of his arrest when he introduced Holy Communion”, or something to that effect.

And then Professor Bauer would catch us in our answers by asking about all the post-resurrection mealtimes shared with Jesus. We may not even realize that the expression “The Last Supper” is not given to us by scripture, but by art history. Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting has imprinted itself so deeply into Western Christian consciousness that we hardly stop to question its misleading title. 

The meal on the beach is, possibly, Jesus’ true Last Supper on record. I love reading this meal through eucharistic overtones: Jesus invites the disciples to the “table” (in this case, it’s around a fire on a beach), he takes the bread, he gives the bread — and the fish — and they share a meal. And while other Eucharistic meals in scripture ground us in almost quasi-rhythms and processes (taken, broken, blessed, and given), this meal moves us quickly into the informal, relational — the spoken, the anointed. 

In true form for works of antiquity, we don’t get the full recorded conversation, and have no idea what else was spoken in the intervals between the three “Do you love me” questions. By the third time Jesus poses his question, we cannot help but wonder at his insistence — where is this coming from? 

The three requests for affirmation stand in contrast to Peter’s three incidents of denial. Jesus, persistent, scarred from his crucifixion (as stated earlier), allows for his repetition to be read as a moment of vulnerability. Peter, by the end of the conversation, does not grow in his joy, but transitions more and more into a place of hurt. 

And yet, this is not a story of trauma or anger. Nor is it a literal confession-and-absolution exchange. This is a meeting of the two wounded, on the beach. 

Alexander Schmemann calls the Eucharist the “sacrament of love”. If we read the meal on the beach sacramentally, then we can interpret what transgressed between Jesus and Peter as deep sacred work — the work of friendship, reconciliation and peace upon which Peter’s pastoral mandate will be built. Hurt gave way to love. Denial gave way to restitution. Mercy extended into an anointing of mission.  

As I consider my own meeting-of-the-wounded moments in my life, I can easily imagine how my state of hurt or vulnerability may anchor me in discord, distance or misunderstanding. I must ask myself how I can co-create a Eucharistic meal on the beach, in Jesus’ merciful manner. The way of peace, then, is sacramental. The informal spoken words that anoint and reconcile are indeed the sacred work of the Body of Christ. 

Dwelling Among Us

This week Jesus restores Peter through an unusual fishing trip, a charcoal fire, a simple meal, and a series of questions. How are these interventions vital to Peter’s healing? Why doesn’t Jesus just say to Peter, I forgive you? How can we use our informal rituals to nurture sacred reconciliation? 

About The Author

Jenna Smith