He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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."
This conversation between Jesus and Peter is deeply personal and touches at Peter's heart in the deepest places. It is a section of the gospel I find strange to read in one sense, sort of listening in on what should be a private matter. I feel like I stumbled into a very important, very private talk. It would not be my preference to have Jesus so directly question my love for the world to read.
Three times Jesus asks Peter, the disciple who most adamantly and most publically denied Jesus at His trial three times, to affirm his love again for his Lord. And three times Peter does so, with the fresh memory of three denials and the sound of a crowing rooster still echoing in his heart. The third question from Jesus is the hardest to bear, for Peter's heart breaks at it. And Peter's affirmation is the most direct at that point. He knows Jesus knows his heart and appeals to Jesus as omniscient and forgiving God.
With all three questions, the conversation allows Peter to re-affirm His loving allegiance to His Master. And after all three of Peter's responses, Jesus leaves Peter to obey the command to "Feed my sheep". Jesus re-affirms Peter's call to be a shepherd. And in this cycle we see conviction, response, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration all take place.
Jesus restores Peter to kingdom usefulness in this hard conversation walking together on the lakeshore after a breakfast of grilled fish and bread. Peter leaves off being a fisherman with one last miraculous haul that Jesus gave him, and now begins the work of being the shepherd Jesus is calling him to be, tending the flock Jesus is giving him to lead. This is both restoration of relationship and a transformation of Peter's life. Jesus does both quite well still today.