17 May 2013

John 21:15-19

“Simon son of John, do you love me?” (vv. 15, 16, 17)

Background: Continuing development

Today's passage opens with brief details of an ordinary, everyday occurrence. The miraculous resurrection of Jesus had already happened, and Jesus is again in the company of his disciples and they had just enjoyed the meal that nutritionists have labelled as 'the most important meal of the day' - breakfast. Food had played a key part in their relationship and development of the disciples, and so it is no surprise that Jesus uses the examples and imagery of food in the continuing development of those who close to him.

This brief but revealing conversation with Peter seems typical of the personal and focusing way that Jesus illuminated deeper truths. The probing and repeated question and the keen listening to the answers, made Peter feel quite uneasy. Some translations say he was hurt; others say he was grieved. But upset or not, Peter deepens his answers, affirming that although language might be limiting, his love for God was not. So why did Jesus ask the same question three times and risk annoying Peter? Was Jesus after the equivalent of customer feedback rating, or was it that he wanted to affirm Peter's role and call now that his relationship with Jesus had been restored? Jesus seemed to be giving Peter the opportunity to say: 'I know what I did before, but I am committed to following you and will not walk away again'.

Far from judging Peter's answers, Jesus gives him three answers that recognise his repentance, repositions his credibility and restores his call. Peter is given the mandate to continue in his development and to develop others in their journey to - and in- God in three specific ways. When Jesus said "feed my lambs" (v. 15), he tasked Peter with the care for the young, vulnerable and the inexperienced. When Jesus said "tend my sheep" (v. 16), Peter was being reminded of his loving duty of care for those who were mature and maturing. When Jesus said "follow me" (v. 19), Peter was again being given an opportunity to rely on God to do all of the above, and to do it well. It was going to be no small task to lead others, but Jesus wanted Peter to know that God still wanted - and indeed trusted - him to do it.

It would have been understandable if the narrative had shown Jesus advising Peter of a change of heart, perhaps due to lost confidence and betrayed trust. Instead Jesus does the opposite, once again showing the place and value of grace and undeserved favour that are vital in being disciple and discipling others.

To Ponder

  • What question(s) have you been asked that you found annoying or upsetting?
  • Have you been given a second chance? What did that feel like?
  • How will you continue to develop yourself and others?

Bible notes author

The Revd Katei Kirby

The Revd Katei Kirby is currently heading up the Belonging Together project in the Connexional Team. This initiative celebrates the Methodist Church's ethnic diversity, and seeks to embed this at all levels of the Church's life and ministry of the Church.