When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' A second time he said to him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.' (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, 'Follow me.'
The last time Peter was asked three times how he felt about Jesus was the night of Jesus' trial shortly before the crucifixion. That time, Peter denied Christ three times before the cock crowed. Now, faced with the risen Christ on the beach, Peter is asked by Jesus three times, do you love me? Peter is given three chances to say 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,' symbolically wiping away his three denials.
The parallel between these two stories is significant not just for Peter, but for each of us. Despite Peter's previous denial and abandonment of Jesus, Jesus not only forgives Peter, but he also brings him back into the community and gives him work to do. Jesus tells him on each profession of love that it is time to care for his sheep.
This is important to us because we are commissioned at our Baptism to share in the work and ministry of Christ. And yet we often fall short, denying Christ if not with our words, then with our actions (or lack thereof.) But just like with Peter, Jesus doesn't just commission us, Jesus also forgives us when we fall short. And he doesn't just forgive us but calls us to try again.
We are called to love Jesus' sheep - all of them. Throughout our lives, we might at times deny or abandon this call, but Jesus will never stop calling us to him again and again. This is grace, this is love, this is God.
God of second, third, and infinite chances, please forgive us when we fall short of loving you and loving your people. Help us to love you through our actions to all of the people around us, that through us they might know you. Amen.