I went to a small faith-based liberal arts college in Northwest Arkansas. We had to take 12 credit hours of Bible classes, and I don’t remember much from them save this one moment from New Testament survey. The classroom was a large rectangular room with no windows, seats and desks in rows, blank, vanilla walls, and a fancy, electronic overhead projector (because 14 years ago). But our professor was an animated woman, with short-cropped dark hair, a full, descriptive vocabulary, she painted pictures with her stories, and the class was a whirlwind of colour and life.

She taught us one day from John 21. Jesus appeared to the disciples the chapter before, he is risen, and now they are on the beach eating a breakfast of roasted fish and bread. The story goes on to an interaction between Jesus and Peter:

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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time,“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time,“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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.”


Our professor told us that the word Jesus and Peter use for “love” changes in the Greek. The exchange should read:

Simon, son of John, do you agape me more than these?

Yes, Lord; you know that I phileo you.

Simon, son of John, do you agape me more than these?

Yes, Lord; you know that I phileo you.

Simon, son of John, do you phileo me?

Lord, you know everything; you know that I phileo you.

There are three Greek words for love most commonly used in the Bible: Agape, eros and phileo. Eros the word for an erotic, sexual love and phileo is the word for brotherly, friendly, affectionate love. Agape is a divine love, it is complete, self giving, self sacrificing.

Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with a perfect love, and Peter’s response is essentially, “No, I do not. I love you with a brotherly love.” Jesus repeats the question, “Is your love for me perfect, complete, giving, divine, is it agape?” and again Peter says, “It’s just the brotherly kind.” Because he remembers. Not weeks before he had an opportunity three times to say he was with Jesus, and three times he refused. He deserted Jesus. Peter acknowledges his capacity to Jesus in this exchange, this isn’t the man who asked Jesus to wash all of him, this isn’t the man who is jumping out of the boat to walk on water.

This is a man who faced the frailty of his will and the strength of his fears, and he knows. He can’t give Jesus what Jesus is asking for.

Finally, Jesus comes back and asks Peter, “Do you love me like a brother?” and Peter says, “Yes that’s what I’ve been saying all this time. I love you like a brother”


Then our professor laid it on us. I can’t remember her exact words, but this is the message that remains in my heart today, 14 years later: We come to Jesus as we are, and he meets us where we are. He doesn’t sit at an impossible-to-reach finish line, looking at his watch and wondering why we aren’t there yet. He’s the one running out to us, wherever we are on the track, and he’s going to walk, run or limp with us until we are where he wants us to be.

I was a 20-year-old, burdened young woman who experienced freedom that day. Tears fell down my face as I sat in that plastic chair, and I heard it deep in my spirit. I can tell God where I am. Unbelief, fears, doubts, all of my frailties, I can give it to him.

We carry the weight of our desire for growth. We can list the ways we can do better and be better. We push ourselves into experiences and people because we should be able to do this, we should be able to handle it, we should be able to like people whom we can’t stand. When approaching God makes me feel afraid or unworthy or insecure, it usually means I am looking at what I have and believing that it is not sufficient. I want to tell God, I can love like you! I can serve like you! I can be like you! But what he wants from me is honesty.

I can be Peter saying, I cannot give you what you ask for, but this is what I can give.

Can you see the door God opens for you? His pathway for our growth is his radical, gracious hospitality. A breakfast of fish and bread on a beach, honesty about your capacity. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I will meet you there, Jesus says.

Devi Duerrmeier
Devi Duerrmeier / Posts / Blog
Devi Duerrmeier is a writer, thinker, photographer, wife and mother. She writes about food, family and faith at the table at her blog My Daily Bread& Butter while she mothers two boys, cooks simple food and writes vulnerable words from an open, purple kitchen in Melbourne, Australia. After a lifetime of moving, from Sri Lanka to the Philippines to Arkansas to Australia to Switzerland to Sweden and then back to Australia, she is putting away the boxes for a while in favour of a life in one place. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • Susan

    Devi, this is beautiful. “We carry the weight of our desires”- this is so, so true. I will be carrying this post in my heart all day-thank you!

    September 28th, 2016 8:03
    • Devi

      Hopefully it will be a light one to carry, Susan. So glad it spoke to you.

      September 28th, 2016 16:59
      • Charla

        All of my questions seatned-thtlks!

        November 6th, 2016 0:13
      • immobilienfinanzierung trotz bestehenden kredit umschulden

        Technically, we both have saint status according to scripture, but it sure doesn’t fit yet on my shoulders. Many years ago when I was your age, my lofty goal was to somehow, some way impart something to everyone I walked with that would change their life for the better. I have never quite given up on that. And along the way I soon realized that I needed it back just as much from others. Thank YOU for what you have contributed to me. You are a thinker and deeper than most of your peers and I so enjoy that about you.

        February 11th, 2017 9:35
  • Grace

    That passage is one of my favorites and such a personal one for me- I’ve always seen myself as similar Peter and his exchange with Jesus here is akin to what happened between me and the Lord at the end of my seminary days. He met me too then.

    September 28th, 2016 8:54
    • Devi

      I love that, Grace. It has been amazing for me as well to see the ways God has met me through the different seasons of life over the years.

      September 28th, 2016 17:00
  • Bron Rappeneker

    Devi, thank you. I will treasure this as one of those moments when a familiar and significant story became a treasure.

    September 28th, 2016 13:02
    • Devi

      Wonderful to hear, Bron. God makes his word alive in us, and that is an amazing thing.

      September 28th, 2016 17:00
  • CarolSue

    Wow ! Beautiful!

    September 28th, 2016 15:39
    • Devi

      Thanks Carol Sue.

      September 28th, 2016 17:01
  • Theresa

    Lovely. Hoping I don’t forget in those hard moments that God will meet me where I am. No steps necessary. He is coming to me and where I need him to be. What hope God’s message fills us with. Thanks.

    September 28th, 2016 16:53
  • Jen Chrsytman

    Thanks friend! He accepts us as we are and walks with us. Yeah God, eh! The other very cool thing is that being with Him inspires us to be more than we are and so we press forward, hesitantly, to do the risky things and to be in the difficult places that He calls us to. Perhaps at the end, we’ll hear His voice saying, “I knew we could do that together.” He’s amazing in every way!

    September 29th, 2016 1:18
  • Angela at Sal et Lux

    Devi – sweet sister! Don’t you get mind-blown every. time. when God places similar vision on the hearts of His people? Just this morning I was in awe of some discovery of my own personal encounter with a fish-breakfast, as I was reading through this passage of scripture. Thank you for a new insight, and a fresh look at the great Call He has placed on His kids!

    October 17th, 2016 22:58

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