The breaking of bread with fish on the fire is a powerful moment of forgiveness and partnership. In the image, the firelight is mainly on the bread and hands as Jesus as breaks it in the presence of his disciples one last time. Jesus’ own face is in dim behind the bread. The bread and fish have our attention.
In this exact moment, Peter must have been in agony. It was one thing to be among the crowd of disciples seeing Jesus after he came back to them. Now, here on the beach it was like his first encounter with Jesus. He must have felt so unworthy.
Whether Peter realized it in the moment or not is hard to say, but Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”, asked three times was a process of forgiveness. But… “Feed my lambs” and “Feed my sheep” was also Jesus’ way of passing on his mantle of shepherd and teacher to Peter. I don’t think it sank in for Peter right away… that not only was he being forgiven, but that he was receiving the role of leader.
How would Peter do what Jesus did anyway? One clue would be in the symbols that Jesus had with him at the fire. He had bread and fish. The bread and fish were a memory of the feeding of the five thousand. With that miracle Jesus took what was little and fed the crowd. The word for ‘fish’ and the word for ‘grain’ both came from the same root idea in Hebrew meaning ‘plenty’ or ‘harvest’. Through Peter and the other disciples, Jesus would take what was little and feed multitudes in the days to come.
This would be a partnership with God. Peter would shepherd as Jesus had modelled it for him, serving the others. Ultimately, this would be a partnership with all the disciples. The Holy Spirit would create among them the seed of Jesus’ Kingdom community among the disciples that would touch the whole world.
I think it is the same for us today. We live in the tension of operating beyond our human limitations, supernaturally as God uses us, but expects each time that we point to God as our source. As with Peter, God partners with us inclusive of our failures and inconsistent living to show the world who God is.