Readings: Acts 25:13b-21; Psalm 103; John 21:15-19
The white wine produced in the Italian town of Montefiascone has the unusual name of Est! Est!! Est!!!. The story is that a German bishop on his way to Rome, a connoisseur of wine, sent an assistant ahead of him to track down good wines for his lordship. Where he found a good wine he was to write Est! to mark the place, and where he found a very good one Est! Est!!. (The Latin word means 'it is'.) Arriving at Montefiascone sometime in the year 1111 the bishop saw the words Est! Est!! Est!!! written in praise of the local wine. At least this is the story and the local wine bears this name ever since.
It is a theme in the Bible that something confirmed by three witnesses, something to which there is a triple testimony, is beyond doubt. We read in Deuteronomy that a charge can be sustained only on the evidence of two or three witnesses (19:15), a text quoted in Matthew 18:16 as a principle to guide relations within the Church as well. Where something is said three times it means we have not heard incorrectly, there is no ambiguity about what we are hearing, it is definitely the case.
In today's gospel reading Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to confirm his love for him by a threefold testimony. 'Do you love me?' Jesus asks him three times. 'You know that I love you', Peter answers three times. Obviously it gives Peter the opportunity to undo his threefold denial of Jesus. I do love you, it is true, I definitely love you, Peter is given the space to say. Three times Peter was given a vision in support of his preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11), three times Samuel is called until Eli is no longer in doubt, three times Paul prays to God about the thorn in his side (2 Corinthians 12). These are only some examples of the place of threefold testimony in the scriptures.
But the love we preach is not our love for God, it is God's love for us, and it is fair to ask whether there is a threefold testimony also to this love. The First Letter of John tells us that there is: the water, the blood, and the Spirit, three witnesses, and these three agree (5:8). The water is, perhaps, baptism or faith, the blood is the Eucharist and love, the Spirit is the love of God poured into our hearts. Here is a threefold confirmation of God's love for us. We have not mis-heard. There is no ambiguity. It is clear and certain.
Or we can appeal to the most profound threefold testimony of all, the Father who speaks to us in creation, the Son who is with us with his wisdom and his saving power, the Spirit whose coming we await in these days and who transforms and renews us in the love of God. Thinking of this Trinitarian confirmation of the truth God has revealed about himself we can say in a much more profound and serious sense, Est! Est!! Est!!!