18 April 2010

John 21:1-19

"He said to him the third time, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' And he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'" (v.17)


This passage is from the last chapter of John's Gospel. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared a number of times to his disciples, and this is the story of one of those appearances. The disciples had gone fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (another name for the Sea of Galilee), doing what they had done before meeting Jesus.

After they had finished fishing, and had shared in a meal where Jesus had made himself known, Simon Peter (who became the leader of the early Church) was taken to one side by Jesus and challenged. He was asked three times if he loved Jesus. This has echoes from the death and crucifixion of Jesus where Simon Peter denied knowing Jesus three times (John 18:15-27).

The Bible was originally written in Greek and has been translated into a number of languages, English being one of them. The Greek of the New Testament has a number of words which, in English, all get translated as 'love'. Jesus asks Simon Peter three times if he loves Jesus. Peter replied that he does, with a sense of hurt the third time. The first two times of asking Jesus uses a different word for 'love' than the one used by Peter. The third time he uses the same word. Is this significant? Some argue that Peter was unable to reach the standards Jesus wished for him and became upset at his own shortcomings and the way in which Jesus was pushing him, reminding him of personal failure. Others say that it is a question of style, John not wanting to be too repetitive - going on to argue that as Peter became the leader of the early Church he must have met the standards Jesus set.

John's Gospel is full of symbolic and subtle meanings; we have to guard against making things too simple or overly complex.

To Ponder

The first disciples left behind what they were doing to follow Jesus. Being a Christian is often described as being 'born again'. What do Christians have to do differently to show that they are followers of Jesus?

The word 'love' has become both trivialised and sexualised. What other words can be used to describe the intensity, commitment and passion of the Christian life?

What are the different or higher standards we expect from those who lead and who hold public office?

Bible notes author

The Revd Malcolm Peacock

Revd Malcolm Peacock is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Isle of Man District and superintendent of the Isle of Man Circuit. He has a deep and abiding interest in Celtic Spirituality and how the early Church in Britain interacted with local communities.