John 21: 15 – 25 Jesus reinstates Peter
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.’
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.’
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. 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.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’
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 aid, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’
Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
* * *
Jesus asks Peter three times, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Note the formality of these questions, the form of address, ‘Simon, son of John’. It’s not at all a casual question. It’s important. It’s being asked of this specific Simon at this precise moment. Note, too, that the name used is not Peter – it is Simon. Peter, who was to be the rock on which the church was built (Matthew 16: 18 and John 1: 42) is on trial; is he fit for the job for which Jesus had selected him?
The first time Jesus asks the question, Peter answers readily enough. ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
‘Feed my lambs,’ responds Jesus. We can imagine Peter thinking about what Jesus means, and perhaps feeling glad that he’s had the opportunity to declare his love.
Jesus then asks again ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
I expect this time Peter wondered what was coming next. What else was he going to be asked to do?
I wonder if he was disappointed when Jesus responded ‘Take care of my sheep.’ Is there a difference between this and Peter’s first commission, to feed Jesus’ lambs? It must have felt to Peter as though his declaration of love was somehow deficient.
So, when Jesus asks a third time ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter is hurt. Confronted by the gentle but insistent questioning of Jesus, Peter’s mind goes back to the shaming events that led up to the crucifixion.
Peter had said to Jesus, ‘I will lay down my life for you’, and yet, far from laying down his life, he had denied even knowing him. Peter must have wondered over and over again what would have happened had he admitted knowing Jesus. Would he have had to live up to his boast of laying down his life? Would he have had the courage to do so?
Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus; three times Jesus asked him whether he loves him.
‘Lord you know all things; you know that I love you,’ he says.
And Jesus replies with a very similar exhortation ‘Feed my sheep.’
But this time, he adds a prophecy.
‘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.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’
He is telling Peter that eventually he, too, will be crucified.
He is saying, ‘You will live up to your boast. You will have the courage. You will follow me to the very end, and glorify God.’
And with that, Peter’s guilt is healed and he can go on to truly become the rock on which Jesus builds his church. But, being Peter, we have to be reminded just how fallible and human he is. He asks Jesus what is going to happen to ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’.
Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’
Stay focussed Peter! Your job is to follow me. Don’t worry about what will happen to the others. Follow me!
And that’s the message that has come through to me loud and clear while I’ve been studying St John’s gospel. Follow Jesus! Follow him! He’s the one who matters. Following him is the way to do God’s will.
Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for the understanding of his life brought to us by St John in his gospel. Please help me to follow Jesus as closely as I can.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
I’ve found blogging about my journey in faith to be a very productive way of working. God has made it clear to me that the blog is secondary to my own walk of obedience and that he will send readers as and when he chooses. I am forbidden (yes, forbidden, and I write the word with some surprise) to focus on how to build the blog.
But I believe I can ask for feedback from people who have already found the blog.
I am currently planning to study St Luke’s gospel, starting on Monday 25th May. If anyone has any suggestions to share, I would be delighted if you used the ‘Comment’ facility at the bottom of each post.
With love to everyone who has read my words.