There are two places in Scripture where the curious detail of a "charcoal fire" is mentioned. One is in today's Gospel, where the Apostles return from fishing to find bread and fish warming on the fire. The other is in the scene in the High Priest's courtyard on Holy Thursday, where Peter and some guards and slaves warm themselves while Jesus is being interrogated inside (John 18:18).
At the first fire, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, just as Jesus had predicted. ( John 13:38; 18:15-18, 25-27). Today's charcoal fire becomes the scene of Peter's repentance. Three times Jesus asks him to make a profession of love. Jesus' repeated command "feed My sheep" shows that Peter is being appointed as the shepherd of the Lord's entire flock, the head of His Church also (Luke 22:32).
For Peter, a verbal profession of love was not sufficient. Jesus challenged Peter to prove his love in action by feeding his lambs and tending his sheep. Peter obeyed Jesus. I humble obedience Peter discovered who he truly is. St. Ignatius Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, writes that: “love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words”
The saintly Fr. Zossima, from Dostoyevsky’s classic The Brothers Karamazov, says at one point in the novel that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Christian love goes beyond dreamy, romantic feelings, the silver screen of Hollywood and saccharine words. Real love requires to sacrifice and acts of charity in imitation of Christ. By their lives and deaths, Peter and the Apostles showed, in their actions, their love for the Lord.
Jesus' question: "Do you love me more than these?" is a pointed reminder of Peter's pledge to lay down his life for Jesus, even if the other Apostles might weaken.
Jesus then explained just what Peter's love and leadership will require, foretelling Peter's death by crucifixion ("you will stretch out your hands"). Before His own death, Jesus had warned the Apostles that they would be hated as He was hated, that they would suffer as He suffered (Matthew 10:16-19,22; John 15:18-20; 16:2).
We see the beginnings of that persecution in the First Reading. Flogged as Jesus was, the Apostles nonetheless leave "rejoicing that they have been found worthy to suffer."
Their joy is based on their faith that God will change their "mourning into dancing,"
A scene glimpsed in today's Second Reading reveals that by following the Lord through suffering they, and we, will be counted worthy to stand in the kingdom of God before "the Lamb that was slain." ( Revelation 6:9-11).