After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man here who was left in prison by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him. I told them that it was not the custom of the Romans to hand over anyone before the accused had met the accusers face to face and had been given an opportunity to make a defense against the charge. So when they met here, I lost no time, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. Instead they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor." Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear the man myself." "Tomorrow," he said, "you will hear him."
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."
In moments of fear we often fall short of our best. This happened even to Peter, our church's chief apostle and pastor, when terrified he denied Jesus three times. After the resurrection Peter returned to his former job as a fisherman, and Jesus appeared to him by the lakeside and three times asked the incisive question, "Do you love me?" Peter was no longer the brash, impulsive man of former days, for after betraying Jesus he tasted a flood of humility and remorse. He had returned to the work he knew best, sobered by failure and now ready to get on with his life, with new self-awareness. After tasting his own need for mercy he had learned compassion for others, and became the kind of man to effectively lead Christ's Church. Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus asks him, "Do you love me?" Only when Peter answers with humble love and total surrender, "Lord, you know everything," does Jesus commission him to "Feed my sheep."
Moving out from Jerusalem into a wider field of mission, Peter brought the Gospel message first to Joppa and then Antioch and later to Rome itself. Love, contrition and obedience to the Lord's prompting became the hallmarks of his ministry. As such, he is the rock of the Church and patron of all apostolic people. Even though Peter speaks with authority, there is a quality of patience about him, clearly reflected in his epistle when he writes "I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you" (1 Pt 5:1). He is able to love and be loved, humble and open to others in their ideas and talents, aware of sin and able to appreciate the weakness of others, ready to obey Jesus at all costs. This is the authentic Petrine ministry our Church reveres and prays for. Jesus singled out Peter from all the apostles and particularly sent him to "Feed my sheep." He was to be the iconic pastor of the Church.
Before Jesus was crucified Peter denied Jesus three times. After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to Peter and asked him three times, "Do you love me?" as we heard in today's gospel. The question on the lips of Jesus is not, "Why did you deny me?" but "Do you love me?" The question Jesus asked is not one that focuses on the past but, rather, one that focuses on the present. The past is past; it is the present that matters.
The question "Do you love me?" is one we can all hear as addressed to each one of us personally. That question calls on us to make the Lord the focal point of our love; he is to be our first and our deepest love. Earlier in John's gospel Jesus had said, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, remain in my love." That relationship of love between the Lord and ourselves is at the heart of our faith; everything else flows from that love and presupposes it. Peter could not be commissioned to feed the Lord's flock until he first declared publicly his love for the Lord. Our own personal relationship with the Lord comes before any work we might do in his name. Our life of faith, our sharing in the Lord's work of caring for his flock, for each other, is the living out of a personal relationship of love with the Lord.