"Simon son of John, do you love me?" "Take care of my sheep." "Simon son of John, do you love me?" "Do you love me?" "Feed my sheep." (John 21:16-17)

Jesus keeps repeating this question and statement - for the second and third time. Why?

Here is the full text of Jesus' statements together with Peter's responses:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17)

Jesus is not saying this in jest. He is very serious, to the point that Peter felt hurt that Jesus was not believing that Peter loved him.

But Jesus is making a point that Peter is not understanding - but will understand later.

Remember that Jesus is appearing to a few of his disciples that were out fishing, and they had prepared some of the fish to eat with bread. After they ate, Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"

Then he followed with: "Feed my lambs."

The point is that Jesus did not want his disciples to return to their former occupations of being fishermen. He wanted them to continue his mission of teaching others love for God.
Why is Jesus comparing this to feeding?

Because love for God is the "food" that feeds the spiritual being - the person within our physical bodies. While our physical bodies can be fed with physical food to give them energy, the spiritual being within may still feel empty, regardless how well the body is fed - or given other physical pleasures.

This is because the spiritual being is empty without our innate spiritual relationship with the Supreme Being.

Jesus confirmed this reality earlier:

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work." (John 4:34)

Doing the will of the one Jesus loves - the Supreme Being - is Jesus' "food" because loving service to God - loving God - is what feeds the spirit-person. (As doing someone else's will out of volition is an act of love.)

We are all hungry for this love. We can see this as we look at our lives and the lives of those around us. We can see that everyone is chasing love in the form of relationships with others. Why? Because we each need love. We are fed by love.

And yet these relationships of the world do not satisfy us. This is why so many become divorced and so few are ultimately happy in their relationships in the long run. Why?

Because we are each looking for the perfect person. We are looking for the Supreme Being - the only Perfect Person. This is why none of us are satisfied with the relationships we find here in the world.

In the beginning of a relationship, before we truly get to know the other person, we might feel "in love," as we imagine the person to be that perfect person we've been looking for. But over time, we soon find out that the person is not so perfect.

We find out their many faults. And as we discover these faults we become gradually disappointed. "You aren't who I thought you were" is a common accusation. As if the other person is somehow at fault for not living up to our expectations.

This is not the situation with the Supreme Being. He is perfect in every way. There is no fault to God. And the more we get to know God the more perfect we realize He is.

Yes, the Supreme Being is our Soul Mate - that perfect person we've been chasing throughout our lives. He is the most beautiful, the most funny, the most fun, the most generous, the kindest. He is everything we wish in our mate.

That is because He created each of us to share a particular type of relationship with Him. As a result, those expectations we have for that perfect person - our soul mate - are actually built in to our spiritual identities. They are part of us.

We aren't talking about physical lust here. We are not talking about someone's idea of their best sexual mate. These expectations are borne of lust. They arise from self-centeredness.

We are talking about the internal stuff, the stuff of love. The stuff of relationships that we really need. Beneath the physical desires and the conditional "love" that we might share with our physical spouse or family - we have deeper needs. What are those?

We want our mate to share our deepest emotions with us. We want our mate to care deeply for us and we want to care deeply for our mate - and have our mate know that we deeply care for them. We want to be able to always rely upon our mate - that they will always be there for us - and never die on us or leave us. We want to be able to trust our mate - that they would never deceive us or cheat on us or pretend to be someone they weren't.

These inner needs are part of our spiritual nature. They are part of us. And yet, when we look for these traits within those around us in the physical world we are always let down. This is because none of us are the Perfect Person. None of us are the Supreme Being.

Jesus came to teach us to rekindle our lost loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This is why his most important instruction was:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)

And now Jesus is leaving the physical world, and he wants Peter and the rest of his students to pass on those precious teachings to others - his "sheep" because they would be following his teachings. Jesus wants his students to give those - who are willing to follow - this spiritual food - teaching them to re-develop their loving relationship with the Supreme Being - the Perfect Person each of us is always seeking. This is why Jesus says:

"Feed my sheep."


(This commentary utilizes the NIV version for Biblical quotes. For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of John without sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus  - translated from the original Greek texts.)