The following is a reflection on John 21:1-19, the Gospel lesson appointed for Easter 3C, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
In meaningful conversation there’s what’s said, and then there’s what is actually being said. The conversation underneath the conversation.
When Jesus talks to Peter in the 21st chapter of John what is actually being said is pretty profound. It will change the arc of Peter’s life—as if it hasn’t already been changed enough.
There is, on the outside, this extraordinarily awkward interchange between Jesus and Peter. This is the first time that they’ve really spoken since Peter’s denial.
I don’t know him.
You have to believe that it’s eating Peter alive.
It would have been eating Peter even before talking to Jesus. It might have been one thing if Jesus had stayed in the tomb. Peter would have had to live with himself for denying his friend and teacher, at the moment when Jesus needed him the most. He would have hated himself for it for the rest of his days.
But then Jesus rose from the dead, and he had to actually look Jesus in the eye again. Now he knew that he was going to be forced to deal with his demons head-on.
Peter was probably going through this conversation in his head over and over again. Thinking over what he would say to Jesus. Imagining what Jesus would say to him. Perhaps he was even considering initiating the conversation himself.
But then Jesus is standing there in front of him by a charcoal fire. The last time Peter was by a charcoal fire is when he denied Jesus on the night of the betrayal and arrest.
Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Ouch.
I bet the crowd hushed at this point. Everyone knew Peter had this coming to him. And, everyone loves to see a good fight.
Then he asks again. And again.
Now that’s awkward.
And Jesus keeps telling Peter that if he does love him, as he insists he does, that he’s to feed his sheep, his lambs.
But, that’s just the outward conversation. Because what Jesus is really saying is: If you love me, do something about it. Show me.
And, not like the last time…
This time, feed. Tend. Do it.
What he doesn’t say is, “If you love me, have a nice fuzzy feeling in your belly. Feel all warm and tingly inside.”
But, then Jesus goes for broke.
This isn’t the first time he’s told Peter to “follow me.” But this time it’s different. This time there’s no room for Peter’s denial. For his sinking doubts.
This time Peter is to follow Jesus all the way. In love. In ministering to others. In spreading the Good News. In life. In death.
But, then of course there’s one more level to the conversation. John recorded this for us in his gospel because…we’re also in on the conversation.
Because if we love Jesus…then feeling something isn’t good enough. Thinking things in our minds and hearts isn’t enough.
We need to live it. We need to do it. We need to feed. Tend.
We need to follow Jesus. All the way.