Monday, May 2, 2016

Feeding the Sheep

This Sunday will be the seventh and final Sunday of the Easter cycle for 2016.  During these Great Fifty Days, we have examined how the resurrection continues to impact our lives and our outlooks today.  In worship, we shall continue in the Gospel of John with 21:15-19.

Within this text, the resurrected Christ asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?"

I always kind of felt sorry for Peter in this story.   I've been on the side of being questioned when I was in the wrong and it's never comfortable.  Why does Jesus seemingly badger Peter about this?

One popular interpretation is that this gives Peter the chance to publicly affirm Jesus three times since he denied him three times after his arrest.

Sometimes tending the flock includes keeping them together!
When I was growing up, I heard in sermons that Jesus uses the Greek word agape for the first two times which refers to a more unconditional love.  Then Jesus uses the Greek word philia which is more commonly thought of as brotherly love for the final question.  Sometimes preachers would read into this the idea that Jesus didn't quite buy Peter's attestation of agape and settled for philia.  This kind of shaming seems inconsistent with Jesus and it doesn't make sense for John to end his Gospel on this note.  One of my professors in seminary, Gail O'Day, challenges this notion in her commentary on John as she states that the author simply uses the words for love more interchangeably as he does with the "disciple whom Jesus loved."1

I see these questions as both a challenge and an affirmation.  They come to Peter who leads the church as we move into the next chapter of the Christian story at the end of the Gospel.  And so, along with Peter, we are all affirmed as Jesus charges us with his own mission.  Jesus actually has faith in us that we can do this!  At this same time, it is a challenge in that it is not an easy task.

The church is still working on what it means to feed the sheep of Jesus.  Sometimes we get it right and other times we fail miserably which is also Peter in a nutshell.  Maybe the real point of this story is that Jesus doesn't give up on Peter.  And so Jesus doesn't give up on us as well.

I'm looking forward to exploring this text more on Sunday morning as we put ourselves in Peter's shoes!

In Christ,


Photo by Wayne Seward via, used under the creative commons license.  

1 O'Day, Gail R.  "The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections", The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998, 860.

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