A little early for Valentine’s Day, I know. But bear with me. There is a lot to learn about love. Especially when it is paired with suffering as we will see in a moment.
If we were forgiven by someone we loved and betrayed, would we still know how to talk with them with the “new normal” of grace? If the stain of guilt gets in us, we can seem to be much harder on ourselves than God. But if we have let God down, maybe Him forgiving us and giving us a mission can up the ante. That being an ante of faith and broadening our perspective on something. We are blessed not unto ourselves but to be a blessing to those around us. That is what love can be so uniquely when we have a true encounter with this mysterious carpenter.
This is the conundrum that Simon Peter finds himself in this story. He denied Jesus in his darkest hour, but jumps off the boat and swims to Jesus after the resurrection knowing first that He is Lord. Then Jesus invites them all to Denny’s…sort of. Then….
John 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus is up to something here, but we have to look beyond our modern English language perspective to appreciate it. Jesus asks in Greek, “Do you love me with a willing love?” Like a divine sense of intentionality. But Peter doubts himself possibly because he keeps responding with the word for brotherly love only. Jesus lays down the dare, “Do you love me with a brotherly love?” When it says that Peter is hurt, it is because he thinks Jesus casts a shadow on his ability to love Him at the most simplistic level.
But Jesus is out to show how much faith He has in Simon Peter and that he is a part of the grace agenda for His Church.
18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Elsewhere, Jesus says a lot about taking up your cross and following Him. He even talks about seeking to lose your life in Him and finding it. Jesus calls for martyrdom for only some but never forces someone. If you do not have the disposition in your heart to give all for Jesus, then you are in unbearable suffering. But if you suffer with love, it changes everything. Jesus is confirming that Simon Peter will indeed walk in a willing manner. But He needed to make the conversation raw and authentic.
Okay. I get it Jesus. But the mission of feeding your lambs, tending your sheep and dying like you is a lot. How about if I deflect the pressure about how I should not be singled out for such a life and death?
20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
To follow Jesus takes a lot of simplicity with passion. When Peter decided to jump in the water he said simply, “It is the Lord.” Whatever our mission is. A big one or small one. We just need to keep in touch with Him.
But how? Holy communion comes to mind. In the eyes of the flesh, they went to Denny’s with Jesus. In the eyes of the spirit, it was a mass.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”
1: The accepted the invitation of Jesus and joined him.
2: The disciples undoubtedly discerned the personhood of Jesus (look at 1 Corinthians 11 for a related theme).
3: They took the bread. To take the bread of Jesus is to make practical in every way His atonement for your sins that He can be vibrant in you.
4: To take the fish is like being catechized in the fullness of truth fitting for those who are captured in Him. When Peter caught the fish Jesus called him to, it was men or mankind. If you are a baptized Christian, consider what it is to be caught in His divine plan for the big picture of His Church and the small picture of your life. That is your greatest promotion in this life: in being in Him. As Paul said, “To know Him. In the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.”