Peter and the other disciples hurried to the shore to be with Jesus. As they came close, Jesus offered some breakfast to them. John makes sure to mention that no one had to ask who it was that they were eating with; rather, all the disciples were thrilled to be with Jesus again. Settling in after the meal, Jesus looked to Peter and asked him a very pointed question- “Simon, lovest thou me more than these?”
What the “these” are in context is not absolutely certain, but the text does seem to indicate that Jesus was talking about the fish that they had just caught. I would say this for a couple reasons. 1) It doesn’t seem right to ask Peter if he loves Jesus more than the other disciples, this would not be a standard that Jesus would expect from any one disciple. Rather, every disciple should give full devotion and love to Jesus. 2) The second reason I could see in context is that John spent quite a bit of time describing the fact that Peter was fishing, and that Peter had brought the fish (John points out specifically 153 of them) up to share them for breakfast with Jesus. I think a bit of inspection of the text really seems to indicate that Jesus was asking Peter, “Do you love me more than you love these fishes?” So if that is what Jesus was saying, what did He mean by it?
Perhaps, since Peter had left off as a disciple and had returned to his previous job, Jesus was probing Peter’s heart to see if he really wanted to abandon the gospel ministry and return to fishing. Now, with fishes and Jesus directly in front of him, Peter is forced by Jesus to choose which is more valuable and more worth pursuing - Jesus or fish. Peter could spend the rest of his life doing what he had grown up doing, mending nets and catching fish, or he could press on to more lasting things ministering the gospel to other people.
I think with this view of the text, the words of Jesus seem a bit clearer. “Peter do you love me more than these fish? Then feed my sheep. (take care of those who are my own)” He had already called Peter to be His disciple, but now, He was telling Peter it was his task to share the gospel and make more disciples out of the other followers of Jesus. Being a true disciple did not mean that Peter had received the gospel from Jesus and simply returned to work as if nothing had happened. Being a true disciple meant that Peter’s life and ambition and goals must change. Finally, Jesus reissues his call to Peter, “Follow me.” Just as Jesus made disciples, it would now be Peter’s job to preach the gospel and to train disciples.
The call to Peter is extended to all those who would truly be the followers of Jesus. A true disciple is marked by these things: a love for Jesus, a desire to communicate the gospel, a desire to make disciples (and not just converts). While Peter became a full time minister fully-devoted to teaching and training others, you would not necessarily have to do the same to obey the call of Jesus on His disciples. No matter where you go, or what you do, hear the call of Jesus to follow Him.
Food For Thought: What perhaps were the “these” that Jesus was talking about in “lovest thou me more than these?”