Read John 21:15-17.
Many people have many different theories about the meaning of this story and why St. Peter was distressed by the third “I love You!”. Some will assume it was simply annoyance over the repetition of Jesus’ question, some will say it was guilt over his three denials last week, and some will go into this deeply theological discussion of agape vs. phileo and say St. Peter wasn’t ready to love very deeply yet. These theories could be true, possibly. (I would say though, that it would be mean for us to assume St. Peter wasn’t an agape disciple just because he didn’t pass the test on Good Friday. He made very clear at the last supper he was prepared in his heart to die for Jesus, and we shouldn’t think he was only boasting just because he was overcome by a very human fear and the weakness of his flesh couldn’t keep up with the willingness of his spirit. St. Paul went through the same dilemma every day according to Romans 7:15-20 and no one can deny the depth of his love.)
I have another theory, based more on personal experience than scholarly research. I have noticed a distress in my own soul that reflects the intensity of my love for such a perfect Jesus rather than a weakness in it. When I say “I love You!” to Jesus over and over and over and try to “prove it” in my actions, there is a certain pain of longing, desperation, sense of helplessness? It’s hard to describe, but it’s like I can’t say those three words enough, can’t prove it enough, can’t perfect myself enough, to give Him the me I want to present Him or to get through to Him just how much I care, just how deep the love in my heart goes. You see something kind of similar in the out of control extravagance of the birthday party Elsa throws Anna in Frozen Fever because she’s overwhelmed with the preciously heavy weight of love she carries for her sister. Three words that don’t seem adequate to describe how you feel, but they’re all you can say, so you say them with almost a groaning in your soul as frequently a broken record. What else can you do? What else can you say? It’s never enough. You can never quite fully explain or prove it, because it’s too deep, so deep that you’re afraid even God doesn’t get it. You can’t quite hear Him assure you that He realizes as loudly and clearly as you’re trying to make Him realize: thus the distress of deep love. At the end of the day, though, you have to make an act of faith for the sake of your soul and your sanity and say with St. Peter: “Lord, You know all things. Therefore, in Your Divine Omniscience, I must believe that You somehow know just how much I love You and just how deep and intense that love is. Even though I will never be satisfied with my expression or fulfillment of this love, I must have faith that You know it anyway.”
I probably sounds a little weird, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows this feeling. I think St. Peter was one of these souls and I believe the other souls out there like this will understand what I’m trying to say here. I have a whole new respect for St. Peter now in light of this, and it would make sense that this story is found in St. John’s gospel, since he also loved Jesus very intensely. We love You, Jesus, and we know You know now!