Peace be with you!
There is nothing more intimidating than being interrogated by your mother. Somehow mothers always know the truth, even before and in the midst of questioning you.[i] My mother always catches me in my lies right away. For example, when I try to change plans with her so I can go out with friends, she says, “Just tell me you want to go out with your friends instead of coming here for dinner,” or “Fine, just go out with your friends. I have not seen you in two weeks, but go out with them.” Mothers’ sixth sense allows them to know their children’s needs, wants, and behaviors even before they can vocalize them.
Jesus knows his disciples’ needs, wants, and behaviors like a parent does. In John 21:1-19, Jesus appears to seven of his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias for a third and final time after his resurrection. Presumably Peter and the other disciples have gone back to their previous occupation after Jesus dies. One night the seven disciples go fishing and catch no fish (John 21:3). At dawn, the disciples see a man on the shore who tells them to put their net on the other side of the boat, and when they do, they caught so many that they cannot bring the net in (John 21:5-6).
Although the disciples do not recognize the man as Jesus, but curiously, they do as he suggests—casting the net on the right side of the boat (John 21:6). A few scholars suggest the disciples may have been desperate to catch fish, or maybe they just loved fishing. I would like to think that their subconscious realizes the man is Jesus before they can register the thought. The disciples are loyal and obedient to Jesus, even when they do not realize it. Jesus is also loyal to his disciples by coming to them between giving them the Holy Spirit and the pouring out of the Spirit on the whole church at Pentecost. He reassures the disciples that he remembers his promise to enable them to spread the good news. Jesus never leaves the disciples’ side, even after his death and resurrection. Jesus does everything in his power to help the disciples to fulfill his commission to them to spread the good news and to share God’s love with the world.[ii]
Then the beloved disciple realizes the man is the resurrected Lord and tells Peter (John 21:7). Peter is overwhelmingly excited to see Jesus; he jumps overboard, and swims to shore, leaving the other disciples bring the boat and fish to shore (John 21:7-8). When the disciples are on shore, Jesus asks for some fish to put over the fire for breakfast and breaks bread, which might remind them of the feeding of the five thousand and the Last Supper. The fact Jesus already has fish on the fire demonstrates how he always has our backs. Jesus always finds a way to enable us to spread the good news and to share God’s love in the world. Jesus will always give us the tools we need to do God’s work. Yet by asking for some fish the disciples caught, Jesus also demonstrates how he finds ways to use our unique gifts in order to do his work in the world. Jesus uses our gifts for his glory.[iii]
Then the breakfast conversation gets serious: Jesus interrogates Peter, who denied knowing him three times during Jesus’s trial. Jesus knows Peter denied knowing him three times, just as he predicted (John 13:38; 18:17, 25-27). Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. In Greek, there are three different words for love, which are eros (romantic love, a self-serving love), philos (love between friends), and agape (self-giving love). When Jesus questions Peter and Peter replies, the two of them use different words for love.[iv]
The first and second time Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love (agapē) me?” and Peter answers, “Of course, Lord. I love (philos) you, you know that” (see John 21:15-16). Jesus wants to know if Peter deeply loves him. The third time Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love (philos) me?” and Peter answers, “Of course, Lord, I love (philos) you; you know everything” (see John 21:17).[v] In other places of the Gospel of John, agapē is used to describe divine love (John 3:19; 12:43), while philos describes human love.[vi] Jesus understands Peter cannot love him as deeply as he loves him. Jesus knows Peter loves him, even before the interrogation, yet these questions make Peter uncomfortable. He knows the Lord knows his heart, so why does he keep asking? What point is Jesus trying to make? Jesus’s questions reverse Peter’s three denials of knowing Jesus by restoring his relationship with the Triune God. The interrogation demonstrates the power of the resurrection and God’s forgiveness, grace, and love. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.
Now Jesus gives Peter a commission: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep” (see John 21:15-17 NRSV). Saying he loves the Lord is not enough; now Jesus calls upon Peter to put his words into action. Instead of going back to his old life, Jesus instructs Peter to go out into the world and share the good news with anyone and everyone who will listen. Jesus is commissioning Peter to go beyond his small fishing village—his comfort zone—and share his testimony with the world. Following Jesus means facing and going to dangerous situations. It means suffering on behalf of others in order to express God’s love to those who do not know him. It means befriending those who may make you feel uncomfortable. It means welcoming the homeless, the poor, the disfigured, the disabled, and others who are less fortunate to God’s table.
It is not enough to say that you love (philos) the Lord; you also need to demonstrate your love for the Lord through your actions toward others. Your commission is to go out into the world in order to feed and tend to God’s lost sheep. It requires you to go beyond your community by stepping out of your comfort zone in order to bring others into a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. If you see someone who is hungry, give her food. If you see someone who is homeless, give her shelter. If you see someone who is hurting, tend to his wounds. If you see someone who is lonely, welcome him into your community. By doing so, you will nourish and nurture a community centered around God’s love—a selfless love that breaks the barriers of time and space.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us the power of the resurrection. Push us outside of our comfort zones to nourish and nurture our communities. Make your love burn in our hearts, so we are inspired to share your love, forgiveness, and grace with others. Thank you for forgiving us when we fall. Amen.
[ii] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, vol. 4 of BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 590-591.
[iii] Ibid., 592.
[iv] Frank L. Crouch, “Commentary on John 21:1-19,” Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=569.
[vi] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, 596.