15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 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. (John 21:15-17 NRSV)
Strange things happen in the Gospel of John. Water becomes wine at a wedding; water turns to living water for a broken woman in enemy territory. People are resuscitated back from life. Jesus describes himself as “Bread of Heaven”, “Vine”, “Good Shepherd.” And just when you think you’ve completed reading the entire Gospel, you turn the page to find an epilogue.
Why? In Chapter 20 we read of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and then to the 10 disciples. Finally, he returns to the 10 and this time Thomas is present. One look at Jesus and he describes who Jesus is, “My Lord and my God.” There are a couple more sentences that bring this Gospel to a very good conclusion. But, it appears that we need one more story.
While Jesus visited the disciples in chapter 20, he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them their sacred commission: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (20:21b) They have the Holy Spirit to guide them and the commission to go out in ministry.
So why do we see them sitting on a beach at the Sea of Tiberius (Galilee)? Not only that, they go fishing! Is this what God called them to do? Fish? I think the answer is clear when we read that they fished all night and didn’t catch a thing. Along comes Jesus. “Children, you have no fish, have you? Try throwing your nets on the other side.”
Competent fishermen would have known what to do. I wonder if they’re stuck. Stuck in seeking a vision for their ministry; stuck trying to fish without giving it thought; stuck trying to figure out where to go from here.
Sure enough, going with Jesus’ suggestion to try doing it a different way, they quit fighting the task and do as he suggests. They catch a lot of fish. The net is heavy and just as they’re ready to pull it into the boat, the disciple whom Jesus loved recognizes Jesus. “Look! It’s the Lord!” A comical scene ensues when Peter throws on some clothes, plops himself into the water and manages to get ashore.
Jesus has fish and bread waiting for them on a fire and suggests they bring some more from their catch. They eat together as they had so many times before, only this time it’s a sacred meal. A sacred meal that resembles the Great Banquet in the Kingdom of God. After breakfast, Jesus and Peter have a conversation.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Now Peter feels hurt. Does he remember the three times that he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples?
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep.”
The third time Jesus asked the question, Peter completely commits himself to Christ and his mission.
That mission isn’t to be found on a fishing boat. There’s only so much time left in Peter’s life and he’s been called by God to serve in the world spreading the good news. He has his mission now and his vision: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Somehow he seems to understand because as we read about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter becoming a strong leader and a powerful healer.
So why the need for the epilogue? I suggest three messages for you and I today:
- Jesus calls us and feeds us. We’re not alone when we’re serving him and his people.
- Jesus offers forgiveness and grace. It’s good to know that because we will mess up with denials and betrayals and running in the other direction.
- There’s no escaping Jesus. Whether hiding behind locked doors or out on a fishing boat, Jesus finds us. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:1-3, 7 NRSV)
Perhaps your relationship with Christ is a close personal faith with him like that of the Beloved Disciple who reclined at Jesus’ side at mealtime. Maybe your sense of call is more like Peter’s, that of continuing Jesus’ acts of justice and mercy. Chances are that your faith is a blend of the two along a continuum between the two. Understanding your relationship with Jesus, how are you fed by him? How do you keep your relationship with him alive and thriving? Some ideas include: prayer, time alone in mediation with him, Bible reading and study. You may also consider how you serve others in your particular community. Whether through your local church or other organizations, how do you work for justice and mercy as an expression of your love for Christ?
If you’re wondering if you’re doing enough, begin in prayer and stay at it until you receive an answer. You may be surprised to discover that your life is a reflection of your love.
If not, God will point you in a direction. However, you may have to fish on the other side of the boat, rather than doing it the same way all the time.
All glory and honor be to God.