John 21 records a very interesting exchange between Jesus and Peter. Peter and some of the other disciples had been out fishing all night and they had caught nothing. That morning, Jesus called to them from the shore (although they didn’t know it was Jesus at the time). He urged them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. And when they did, they caught a great catch of 153 fish!
Peter, recognizing that it was Jesus, jumped out of the boat and left the rest of them to struggle with the fish. John signals something very significant when he specifies that Jesus had prepared a charcoal fire on the shore. The only other time this terminology is used is to describe the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest where Peter had denied Jesus (John 18:18). This sets the stage for Peter to revisit his devotion to Jesus.
As they stood around the fire, Jesus asked Peter a very unique question – “Peter, do you love me more than these?” What does Jesus have in mind in asking this question? Is he asking, “Peter, do you love me more than these other disciples do?” Is he asking, “Peter, do you love me more than you love these disciples?” In light of the context it seems as if Jesus is asking, “Peter do you love me more than these fish?”
One of our interpretive clues is at the outset of this passage where Peter decided to go fishing. This was not simply an attempt to do something relaxing on a Friday night. This was Peter returning to his previous vocation – and abandoning his call to follow Jesus and fish for men. And as they look at this great catch of fish lying on the beach, Jesus wanted to know if Peter loves him more than he loves these fish. When we encounter struggle in our walk with Christ, we too can be tempted to return to familiar territory. It is a fair question for all of us – “Do you love Jesus more than ____?”