John 21:15-19 Jesus restores Peter
John’s final chapter is a trip back to the beginning for these disciples. The scene in John 21 is eerily similar to the one where these disciples were first called. Luke 5 takes us to this same Sea of Galilee on an equally unsuccessful night of fishing. Exhausted and hungry fishermen. Empty nets. A voice from the shore to try just one more time. And fish. Boatloads of fish. A declaration of Lord toward the man behind the voice. A call away from fear. A call to fish for men. A call to follow. Nets and boats and families were left behind.
Here at the end, when all has been broken and the disciples have been scattered in fear and failure – this familiar scene is once again playing. These men have returned to their life from before.
But once they hear the voice, the suggestion and the nets of fish – they know. Like before (Matthew 14) Peter is out of the boat and headed to Jesus. There is a meal ready for them. The body who had been broken was ready to break with them again. The breakfast meal is already prepared.
The last meal they had together – the last breaking of the bread didn’t end well:
You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,”
Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
And all the others said the same. (Mark 14.27-31)
Not just a bad way to end a meal, but because it was a prediction of their (especially Peter’s) failure and fear. What does that next awkward conversation look like? How do you say, “Sorry about that whole denial situation” ? ‘’
Jesus asks this question about love. “Do you love me?”
For more than 30 years, I have heard this story as Jesus driving home the point: Three times you denied me. So we are going to go over this three times. Maybe with repetition you will get this through your head. A divine, post-denial, ”what have you done” talking-to Jesus style.
But what if it is something else entirely. What if Jesus is turning the question – not asking, “What have you done?” What if he is coming back to a better question – “Do you love me?” A call back to the greatest command. A call back into relationship. A call away from performance based worth.
Henri Nouwen talks about we are bombarded by voices that challenge our worth and value and we are constantly asked to prove our worth through actions. Failures mean we are creatures of no or little value. Henri reminds us that this is not the voice of God that we hear – for the voice of God calls us the Beloved. ‘That is the voice Jesus heard when he came out of the Jordan River: “You are my beloved; on you my favor rests.” And Jesus says to you and to me that we are loved as he is loved.’
What if Jesus is reminding Peter of the first time they met? What if he is reminding Peter that he is loved? What if it takes Peter three times to hear it because the voices of his recent failure are still whispering in his ear that he is not worthy?
Jen Rogers (current MDiv) was Coordinator of our Spiritual Life Advisors program when I got my gig. We used to go to church together in Texas, where she picked to live in her current life as Director of Student Ministries at Abilene Christian University. She manages the Women In Ministry web site, and contributes to that good work. She’s one of those people who makes her own Malibu wherever she goes (or Lubbock, as needed).