John 21=Do you love me?
Bible Background: In John’s Gospel, this is the 3rd and final time the risen Jesus appears to his disciples. It’s at the lakeshore. The disciples have gone fishing (likely for ‘work’). The risen Christ directs them to an amazing catch of fish. Then he has breakfast waiting for them on the shore. The dialog between Jesus and Peter is significant!
Digging Deeper: 1. This passage is sometimes described as “the restoration of Peter to the role of a leader among the disciples.” The ‘restoration’ part refers to the 3x’s Peter denied any connection to Jesus, on the dangerous night when Jesus was arrested. Here, Peter has 3 chances to say “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you!”
2. An interesting little tidbit is that the first two times Jesus asks “Do you love me?” the Greek work is agapeo, one of 3 Greek words for “love” in the New Testament. Agapeo is the word for ‘self-giving’ love, the highest and most demanding form of love! Peter responds however, with a different word for love-phileo-the word for ‘brotherly love’, a somewhat less intense kind of love. (Think, Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love!) The third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Jesus uses phileo. Is that significant? Is Jesus accepting the level of commitment that Peter can muster?
3. Each time Peter responds, Jesus is really giving Peter work to do, and a role to play. What does it mean to “feed my lambs” or “tend my sheep”? Dig into that a bit! “Lambs” might refer to more vulnerable people (the very young and the very old?). And people then and now do need to be fed! Some need food on the table. All need to be ‘fed’ with compassion, encouragement, and grace. “Sheep” might need shepherding! In John’s Gospel, Jesus claims “I am the good shepherd”. Is Peter (and are the other disciples) also to be shepherding people? Looking out for their well-being? Guiding? Caring for them? How does this work become our work in daily life? In this county we live in? In the wider world?
4. A famous quote from early church ‘father’ Tertullian noted that Romans, non-believers, would observe the fast-growing community of Jesus’ followers and exclaim, “See how they love one another!” Can we imagine that it is our love for others that will make the biggest difference in the world today?