The others sat at a distance, chatting quietly, stealing glances at the two of them. The two sat huddled by the breakfast fire, the morning sun warming up to the day. He glanced upon the face of his friend, who was looking out upon the sea. Haunting guilt lingered like a shadow in his chest, and when his friend looked him in the eyes, he quickly cast them down at the sand. His friend’s gaze, however, remained.
The fire cracked, and the waves cast a hush upon the shore.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus said.
Peter’s eyes shifted from the sand to the fire and down again. It had been a long time since his friend had called him that. He’d gotten used to his nickname. He only dared a brief look into his friend’s eyes. “You mean more than the others? More than these fish? More than my old life?”
Jesus was silent, and answered his question.
“Yes, Lord. Yes,” Peter said. “You know I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.” said Jesus. “They’ll need a shepherd. I want it to be you.”
Peter protested. “Oh, Jesus. Thank-you, but, I couldn’t do that. I think you want someone like John.”
“No, Peter. I want you.”
Peter kept his eyes everywhere but upon his friend. “I really couldn’t. I’m just not equipped.”
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes! You know I do! I just...”
“Tend my sheep.”
Simon Peter, the son of John, looked to his friend. “Jesus... Please. You don’t want me for this. I can’t! Please!”
Jesus spoke again. “Look at me, Peter.”
Peter felt like gravity itself fought against his gaze, and strained to raise his eyes.
Jesus placed a hand on his shoulder. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
The surf broke upon the beach as the tears broke from his eyes. “You know everything!” he cried. “You know I love you!”
“Do you know you love me?”
Peter was silent, but for his sniffling nose and the stifled grunts of a sob.
“I denied you! I denied you!” he wept. “I’m sorry! I’m no better than him. I’m so sorry! I don’t want you to love me like this. Please!”
Jesus held the weeping man. “Too late, Peter. You’ve welcomed me three times.”