In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage, Jesus pushes Peter to examine his commitment and then gives him his marching orders.
John 21: 15-21 – DO YOU LOVE ME?
After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”
Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
The past few weeks have been rough for Peter. Jesus has been arrested so that he can be questioned by the high priest. Impulsively Peter follows him right into the high priest’s courtyard and warms himself by the fire. While Jesus is being accused with blasphemy, mocked, spat upon, and beaten, Peter has his own problems. He is recognized. A servant-girl accuses him of being with Jesus. He denies it. Then she elbows someone and repeats her accusation. Peter denies it. Finally another bystander says Peter must be with Jesus because he is a Galilean. Peter curses and again denies knowing Jesus. Then the cock crows twice. And thus Peter’s long and hard guilt trip begins.
Since the resurrection, Jesus has already appeared to the disciples twice. After the second appearance, Peter persuades the other disciples to leave Jerusalem, while they bide their time and await instructions. They return to Galilee – the place he loves best to do what he knows best, fishing. They fish all night but are spectacularly unsuccessful. At dawn, they notice a figure standing by a charcoal fire. He suggests that they try their nets on the right side. They obey and haul in a net full of large fish, a catch that makes such an impression on John that he records the number in his gospel: 153 fish.
Suddenly John, perhaps remembering another time much earlier when Jesus tells them where to fish, puts two and two together. He shouts, “It’s the Lord.” Impulsive as always, Peter jumps in the sea to get to Jesus. Jesus has some fish and bread on the charcoal fire. He and the disciples share a “last breakfast.” (Interestingly, the Greek word for the charcoal fire (“anthrakia,” ) is used only twice in the New Testament, here and for the fire that warmed Peter in the high priest’s courtyard.)
After breakfast, Jesus and Peter stand by the charcoal fire for an intense question and answer session. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter answers “Yes, Lord” three times. The third time he is hurt because he thinks Jesus doesn’t believe him (projecting his shame perhaps?). Jesus then gives Peter instructions: “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep,” Feed my sheep, and finally “follow me.” At this final order, Peter must have flashed back to the first time he was invited to follow Jesus, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).
After this conversation, life is different for Peter. His denial has been forgiven, his guilt and desperation are redeemed. He has been given his marching orders – again. Now he must become the Rock on which Jesus said he would build his Church (Matt 16:18).
♥ Denial and forgiveness. Disobedience and redemption. We all live in this cycle. But perhaps we are in denial about our denial? When we refuse to speak the truth to lies or begin to “normalize” the lying we hear, we deny our allegiance to the author of Truth. When we refuse to care about our neighbors no matter how near or how far across some ocean they may live, we deny the role that Jesus gave us all: to feed and shepherd others. As you listen to the politics of our day, ask yourself if you are in denial about God’s call on your life.