Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Bible Study - John 21, Samson
Volume 8 No. 475 April 13, 2018
II. Lectionary Reflections

Interesting Details on John 21
• John's Gospel has two charcoal fire scenes. In chapter 18, Peter denied Jesus three times. In this chapter, Peter professed his love for Jesus three times. Love heals his sins and reunites him to Jesus.

• From love comes deeds, namely feeding and tending Jesus' lambs and sheep (vv.15-17), even if the actions cost one's life (v. 18). The lambs and sheep belong to Jesus, not Peter.

• Love also gives light: the beloved disciple recognized Jesus first (v.7). John's love also gave him advantages over Peter in other situations: John sat next to Jesus at the last supper (13:23); Peter relied on John to ask Jesus a question (13:24-25); and John, like Jesus, entered Caiapha's courtyard through the gate like a true shepherd, while Peter had to wait for John to lead him in like a sheep.

• Regardless of an apparent pride among John's disciples about John's closeness to Jesus, they acknowledge in this appendix, chapter 21, that Jesus chose Peter to be the leader, but only after Peter professed what John has abundantly, namely love for Jesus.

• The meal that Jesus prepares (vv.9-13) is an Eucharistic symbol. The disciples bring the whole world (153 fish) to Christ in this meal. The untorn net holding all these fish together points to a unity.

One Main Point

Out of love, Jesus' disciples are called to unite and bring the whole world to Christ in the Eucharistic celebration, where Christ feeds all.

The Grace of Another Day

by The Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephens

Gospel: John 21:1-19

There has been a recent ad campaign by a major insurance company that says, "Sometimes life comes at you fast." One of the ads shows a lady, learning that she has won the lottery, running into the back of a truck filled with dirt. Another shows a man who gets in his car to start it, only to have it fall apart. It is true that sometimes life is more than we can deal with. There are those times we would like to step aside from the push of living and just be comfortable.

The disciples had been on an emotional rollercoaster with the events of Good Friday and Easter, and I'm sure they were at the point of exhaustion when they returned to what they knew best-fishing.

The very fact that you are listening to this program today shows that you have some interest in how God fits into this world. But be honest, many of us hope that God will be doing whatever God does without involving us too deeply. At times like those disciples in our lesson, we just want to step aside. But we're not called to live in safe harbors. We're called through the grace of another day to grow towards being the person God created us to be. God has not finished with us yet. God pursues us as Jesus did the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, calling for us to be about what he would have us to do in life.

The Sea of Galilee represented a safe harbor for the disciples. For the ones who went fishing, it was what they knew. It was what they had done for years before Jesus came and called them to follow him. After all, it was by catching fish that they had made a living. And now that Jesus was gone, they returned to their safe harbor of fishing.

Earlier Jesus had given Simon and the others another day when he called them to drop their nets and follow him. They had been witnesses to miracles as the lame walked, the blind saw, the deaf heard, and the hungry were filled. They had the scriptures opened to them through the teachings of Jesus. And speaking of another day, they had seen Jesus come back from the grave, the chains of death broken.

Jesus had given Simon a great new vision when he called him the rock on which he was going to build the church. But Simon had demonstrated he was anything but a rock when he denied Jesus three times. But here in today's lesson in John 21, Simon is being given the gift of another day. This gift would mean another day to start to be that rock, to fulfill the vision.

To claim the grace of another day, it is not enough merely to say what we will do; we have to begin to live in such a way as to be molded by our faith. It is not enough for Simon to declare his love for Jesus; he was told to feed the lambs of Jesus. We are given the grace of another day so that God's expectation for our lives can be met. We are given the grace of another day so that we can start anew to live out our hopes.

The grace of another day is repeated over and over again in scriptures: When Abraham and Sarah were beyond the age of bearing children, Isaac was born. Moses on the run from murder was called to go back and confront Pharaoh. Elijah at the point of suicide was challenged by God, and Paul was confronted as he was on the way to Damascus to persecute the church to be a church planter. Our Gospel today is a story of being given another day.

In the Methodist tradition there is the story of John Wesley. Wesley had tried all the normal ways of responding to God's calling. He had been a priest, a professor of theology, a missionary, but then he was given the grace of another day on May 24, 1738, at a quarter to nine when his heart was strangely warmed. Wesley was given the grace of another day.

When life comes at us too fast, maybe we too need to pause, to pray for and to seek the grace of another day. We need to have the courage that when the gift is given to use it as best we can to do the will of God for our life. There is no limit to when the gift can be given.

One of the shifts in the church in the last part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st is the age of persons responding to the call to the ministry. The norm in the past has been for young people of college age to be in the majority of those called. Today, for example, in my denomination, the United Methodist Church, we have seen the average age go beyond 40. God's gift of a new day can come at any point.

I liked the title of a book on retirement a decade ago, "I Never Found the Rocking Chair." As more and more active boomers are entering retirement, the norm for what that means is changing as we see second careers, active volunteers, and people involved in their communities and churches. The years that follow retirement are being seen as the gift of another day, not as a time to withdraw but as a time to be open to where God might lead.

When God interrupts lives, as Jesus did the lives of the disciples early that morning by the Sea of Galilee, it has a way of bringing us face to face with what we should be about. Too many times we are like the man in a cartoon with hair frizzed, legs trembling, and shirttail out, saying, "Doctor, I would like to see things a little less clearly." We like to be comfortable in our safe harbors. We like to retreat into the comfort of what we know and do so well, as opposed to being challenged to grow and to follow. We like to look back instead of looking forward. Peter might have protested, "Let somebody else feed your lambs. I will be satisfied with the sentiment of saying, 'I love you.'" The gift of another day is the opportunity to put our deeds where our creeds are. The gift of another day is the opportunity to change.

I'm reminded of the story of a wife who put a little plaque in the kitchen that said "PRAYER CHANGES THINGS." Twenty-four hours later it was gone. She went to her husband and asked, "What is wrong? Don't you like prayer?" to which he replied, "Oh, I like prayer. I don't like change." When we come face to face with what we are running from, it changes how we see ourselves, how we see others, and how we see the potential of how God might work through us.

Mark Twain once wrote, "You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." When we have been overwhelmed in living, we can't depend on what we want, but rather must seek what God wants. Just as Jesus was waiting on the shore for Peter and the others, he's waiting to help refocus us. If I might paraphrase Mark Twain, "You can't depend on your eyes when your faith is out of focus."

The grace of another day brings with it the challenge to change. Peter could no longer be comfortable to ease back into fishing. He now knew the journey he had set out on was not over. He was being given the gift of another opportunity to become what Jesus had envisioned for him.

All of us on our faith journeys will need this gift of another chance. We need to stay committed until we grow to be more as God would have us to be. It is not the task of a day, but rather one of all our days. To be faithful is not easy. It is not merely wishing for a better world, it is being ready to work for it every day, to realize with each new day we are being given the gift of opportunity.

At some point we have to let go and try. Maybe you have heard the story of the pitcher in a tight game facing a great hitter, shaking off all the pitches the catcher called for. The catcher became very frustrated and finally approached the mound and said, "I have called on every pitch in the world. What do you want?" to which the pitcher replied, "I just want to hold on to the ball as long as I can."

Peter, if you really, really love Jesus, you are going to walk away from the safe harbor of that boat and tend his flock. You have to let go and let God be in charge. You can't retreat forever.

To claim the gift of another day does not mean that we are always prepared to charge full speed ahead. Many days we feel as Peter and the others did when they retreated back to fishing, like a comfortable favorite chair or pair of well broken-in slippers. We like the familiar, but if we want the full benefit of another opportunity, we need to push ourselves to go on. As in our lesson example, don't just say you love; show it by your actions.

Sydney Harris, a newspaper columnist in Chicago in the mid-part of the 20th century, once told about a time he gave a talk on creative writing to a group of amateur writers. Afterwards, someone asked, "Mr. Harris, what do you do when you don't feel like writing?" "I write," he answered. "That's the difference between an amateur and a professional. I write even when I don't feel like writing."

Commitment to the task, that's the difference between a nominal follower of Jesus and a truly dedicated disciple. You can see the word discipline in disciple. His call is not to retreat to our safe harbors, our comfort zones, but rather to use the gift of another day to be about the agenda he has for each of us.

Can you imagine for a moment as Jesus stood by the lake and looked out at Peter and the others fishing what he must have felt? Those on the boat were the heart of the team he had spent his ministry preparing to go to all the world with the Good News. Tears must have run down his face as he looked at them. He had formed them in the community to be his body. They were his plan to spread the word and what was happening. They were spending their night fishing. Had they not heard anything? Was it to all end here? If we count the number in the lesson, there were seven of the original twelve fishing. Of course, Judas was gone, but four others had gone their separate way as well. Jesus had to be worried.

As the disciples came near, Jesus asks if they had caught anything. They answered they had not. So he told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, which they did and were successful. Then they saw it was Jesus, and Peter in his excitement, jumped into the sea to get to Jesus, while the others brought the net filled with fish ashore. Jesus had prepared a fire to cook some of the fish for breakfast, and they shared bread and fish together. Then Jesus turns toward the boat and the fishing nets the disciples had been using. That boat represented a safe harbor for Peter and the others that had gone out that night. It had been their life before they met Jesus. And now they were being confronted by Jesus, "Do you love me more than these?" Of course Peter replied that he did. Then Jesus answered all three times, "Then show it." He called Peter to feed the lambs and tend his sheep. He was challenging Peter to be about what he envisioned when Jesus saw in Peter the potential to be the foundation of the church.

Peter had retreated to what was a safe harbor, and now Jesus was giving him the gift of another day to be faithful. There was still time for Peter to become the fiery preacher of Pentecost, to confront the high priest, the elders and the scribes as they assembled, to reach out to Cornelius, to be delivered from prison, and finally according to tradition, to be martyred in Rome.

We, too, are being challenged to believe that not only can we have the grace of another day, but in that day we can change and, in changing, change the world around us.

William Wilson was a drunk. In the middle of the depression in the '30s, he found himself in a hospital in New York drying out. He cried out, "If there is a God, let him show himself. I'm ready to do anything, anything!" This man was one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Through this group comes the grace of another day to countless people in 114 countries around the world. He now simply is known as "Bill," and those who come to the group as "friends of Bill." But what a powerful example they are of people being given another day.

Jesus makes it clear that the gift of another day is not to be taken lightly. There will come a day when there are no more days. Jesus says, "But then you grow old. You will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you to where you do not wish to go." He is saying to Peter now is your opportunity to get on with the mission I have given you. Take the grace of another day. He challenges him by saying, "Follow me." Jesus could have added, "I did not choose the safe way. I marched to Jerusalem and knowing what awaited me, I took on the form of a servant, one obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Drop those nets. Leave those boats. Get out of your comfort zone and follow me."

Would you please join now with me in prayer?

Gracious God, we confess that often we are tempted as Simon Peter was to retreat from what we know we must do. Give us the courage to answer again your call to be your people in this time and in the places where we are. Amen.

Source: Day 1, Copyright, 2007 by The Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephens

Repairing Our Grief

By Greg Carey

Gospel: John 21:1-19

My Uncle Norman fought in Europe during World War II. An artillery observer, he didn't return with many "heroic" stories to tell. When I was little, he would roll out some souvenirs from the war, and I'd be impressed: German military dress knives and lovely table linens. I don't recall all of the stories or how these things became his, but I'm pleased to report the table linens were a gift. His war experience was hardly glamorous.

Uncle Norman did tell of one harrowing experience. He and his partner were identified by German artillery, and they experienced exactly the treatment they dished out. Out in front of their own unit, as they always were, they heard a shot go just overhead and explode behind them. Then one fell just short. Placing a shell a bit to the left and one to the right, the Germans had them zeroed in. Uncle Norman's friend panicked, frozen, stuck to the ground. And in the last minute - as he remembered it - my uncle tackled his partner and carried him to safety. Pretty dramatic stuff for a kid to hear.

When Uncle Norman was much older, he came close to death after gall bladder surgery. That night he experienced profound nightmares, the Lady Macbeth experience of bloody hands he could not cleanse. The next day, he told me a very different story than the ones I'd heard before. I believe I was the first to hear of the time when he called in the coordinates for an intersection across which a significant body of Germans was crossing. For thirty minutes, he said, he watched the effects of the barrage he had targeted. And now, forty years later, his hands wouldn't come clean.

Moral Injury

Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth has recognized the kinds of injuries that occur to people whose life experiences have placed their moral character under undue stress. Under the leadership of theologian Rita Nakashima Brock, retired chaplain Colonel Herm Keizer, and biblical scholar Coleman Baker, the Soul Repair Center provides research, curricula, and training to help persons who suffer from moral injury (defined here). Imagine being a sniper for a police agency who finally fires that first shot in the line of duty - and watches the target die instantly. The sniper is doing her job by protecting other people from imminent danger, but it turns out that killing people is bad for the soul. (See Brock's book, co-authored with Garbriella Lettini, "Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War.")

Moral injury isn't identical to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though the two can be related. Moral injury happens when we transgress our basic moral beliefs and expectations. It can occur when we've done our best in impossible circumstances or when we've simply failed. Millions of people are living with moral injury in the United States alone.

Peter's Role

John 21:1-19 features the risen Jesus and especially his relationship with Peter. John's Gospel gives a distinctive role to Peter and places Peter second to the unnamed "Beloved Disciple." (Church tradition identifies him as the disciple John, but the Gospel leaves him anonymous.) For example, when Mary reports the empty tomb to the disciples, these two run to the tomb. Not only does the Beloved Disciple outrun Peter, he also believes long before Peter is prepared to believe (20:1-10). The drama between these two disciples resumes just after our passage, in John 21:20-23.

In our passage, Peter leads six other disciples fishing in Galilee. The disciples spot the risen Jesus standing on the beach, but they do not recognize him. (Mary Magdalene has the same experience outside Jesus' tomb in John 20:14.) Once again the Beloved Disciple bests Peter by recognizing Jesus: "It is the Lord!"

Peter reacts by putting on his outer garment and then jumping into the sea to swim to Jesus, thus leaving his colleagues to bring the boat - and a miraculous catch of fish - ashore. Whether we're to laugh at Peter for getting dressed before swimming or for being naked in the first place is unclear. In any case, the Beloved Disciple has bested Peter one more time.

Charcoal Fire and Moral Injury

John 21:9 employs a Greek word that occurs only twice in the New Testament, anthrakia. We translate it, "charcoal fire." Once the disciples arrive on shore they "see" a charcoal fire with fish on it and some bread. We get the impression that Jesus has set this fire, for the disciples previously had nothing to eat (21:5; translations vary).

In setting this fire, Jesus has also "set up" one of the New Testament's most gripping scenes. For John's Gospel includes the New Testament's only other reference to charcoal fire. In John 18:18, Peter warms himself beside a charcoal fire - and he remains there warming himself as he denies knowing Jesus three times. While Jesus undergoes interrogation and beating, Peter warms himself and denies Jesus. Three separate times.

John's literary artistry has come into play, for now beside a charcoal fire Jesus will interrogate Peter (21:15-17). Three times Jesus asks, "Simon son of John, do you love me? (NRSV)." Twice Peter replies, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you," but on the third occasion Peter is distressed by the question: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." After each question and answer, Jesus instructs Peter: "Feed my lambs," "Tend my sheep," and "Feed my sheep."

Interpreters have probably made too much of the nuances of Greek vocabulary in this passage, but we can readily see why Peter is grieved. The last time he stood by a charcoal fire, he failed miserably three times. Now Jesus brings Peter back to the scene and puts him through another three-fold interrogation.

Jesus has confronted Peter with the moral injury of the past. Through a ritual reenactment of that scene, Jesus walks Peter through his past and ushers him into a brand new future. Yes, Peter has regrets; and yes, this regret has scarred his soul. But now Peter must do the work of Jesus and tend the flock. Somehow healing begins, and new life bursts forth. May it be so with all who suffer moral injury.

Source: ON Scripture
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Discipleship: A Sermon on John 21:1-19

by Chuck Currie

Gospel: John 21:1-19

Over the last few weeks we have gathered each Sunday to hear the amazing story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. For many these two events - death and resurrection - are enough to base their entire faith. Mel Gibson's problematic film adopts that theological viewpoint. If you watched that film without a larger understanding of Scripture you might walk out only thinking that Jesus suffered and died. The good news is that we know more. We know that Jesus lived, preached a radical vision of social inclusion, and that even death at the hands of Roman authorities was not enough to silence him. When Jesus died he did not die.

The Scripture reading reinforces that memory for us. The Disciples are fishing after the death of Jesus, in a scene very similar to Luke 5: 1-11, when Jesus appears before them and reminds them that they have been called by God to be Disciples. In that Luke passage Jesus first meets some of those who will become his followers. He tells them that instead of fishing for food they will now be fishing for people and they follow him rather blindly. The passage in John is quite different. Jesus and the Disciples have been through political intrigue, spiritual growth, betrayal, death, and resurrection. Now Jesus is back and the message is the same as it was in the beginning: (before the Disciples really knew what they were getting into) follow me. Now they know the risks. The events of Jesus' ministry must have forever changed them. They must have grown as individuals and as spiritual beings. They knew that following Jesus could bring enormous pain and suffering. But they answered the call again - despite the danger - because they knew the rewards were greater.

Discipleship is not an easy task. Different churches bring people into the life of the church in different ways. Some churches, like here at Grace United Methodist Church, make it easy. All one has to do is make a commitment to God and the congregation on a Sunday morning. Other churches require a series of classes before you are allowed to join. There was a period in the early history of the church where becoming a member was a three-year process that included much study and prayer. But isn't Discipleship different than church membership? Is it possible to be a church member without really following the teaching of Jesus? Haven't we all seen churches that act more like country clubs than houses of worship? Discipleship demands more than church attendance. Answering the call of God is life changing - and maybe even dangerous.

Elizabeth McAuster was a Christian peace activist who was sent to prison in 1983 for a three-year term after participating in a civil disobedience action opposing US military polices. She wrote an essay during her time in prison that began with John 21:18.

When you were young, you fastened your belt and walked where you chose; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and a stranger will bind you and lead you where you have no wish to go. John 21:18

These words from the last chapter of John's gospel reduced Peter to silence for perhaps the first time in the gospels. Well they might. In them Jesus painted a vivid image of what Peter's fate would be as a witness to him. In dramatic relinquishment of control over his own life, Peter became a prisoner and was crucified for his Lord.

This is the kind of image that, at worst, fills our hearts with terror and, at best, causes us to falter or flee, especially in this season as the cross of Christ passes its shadow over our lives. With diffident hearts we want to calculate with our God: "This much, Lord, OK? Just don't let 'such and such' happen to me. Don't touch this part of my life!" We project horrors and tragedies beyond our strength to endure.

I know moments when I go into a cold sweat about the future. A familiar interior monologue goes something like this: "God has asked this sacrifice of me. It is livable - not so bad, if the truth be known ....It's painful - unbearably so at times (or so it seems), but if I let God think this is OK, what will God exact next? So I'd better pretend it's harder than it is or that I'm weaker than I am."

The monologue is foolish in the extreme. I emerge from it laughing at myself and trusting that God laughs too, because God knows what I perceive but dimly - that the sacrifice, the pain, the strength, and the joy are all God's gift and that there can be no pretense before God.

Part of that gift is the ability to look over my shoulder and understand that the moments of deepest pain have been those in which I was most alive, most in tune with the sufferings of others, and, by a strange paradox, most joyful. I emerge from the fear and sweat only with an act of faith, with gratitude for all God's gifts, with laughter, and with a renewed commitment to live in the present moment, the only time and place in which I can live or praise God.

I read these words from Elizabeth McAuster and I think she really knows what it means to be a Disciple. She understands that the real sacrifice is not following Jesus. Following Jesus means working for meaningful and lasting social change. It means challenging what we think of as established and asking instead if it is just. It means being prayerful and humble, taking risks, and answering God's call.

When God first called me I didn't listen.

As a teenager I became fascinated with politics. I loved the game. While I had a general progressive bent to my beliefs, I was willing to abandon them for, well, just about anything.

During this time a Quaker who ran a shelter for homeless men came to my high school, gave a presentation on why people become homeless in a country as wealthy as ours, and asked if any of us would volunteer. I quickly raised my hand and told him I would come to the shelter. After all, it might look good on my college applications.

One year later that same shelter director came back to my school, made a similar presentation, and asked the students assembled if they knew why homelessness had increased over the last year. Pointing directly at me he said: “Because people like him don't keep their commitments to help.” I had never made it to the shelter to volunteer and he remembered. If that isn't a call story I don't know what is.

You'll be happy to know that I went to the shelter that weekend - more out of embarrassment than anything else. But It took me nearly 17 years to leave working on homelessness issues and I only did that to attend seminary because I felt called to learn more and this time I decided to listen before I got called on the carpet again. My sense is that my time working on those issues is not over and that I'll be back in one way or another.

Would my life have been different had I not answered that call? I suspect I could have gone into television like my father and made a lot of money. Or I could have gone to law school and then into politics. There was also the possibility I would have become a multi-million dollar movie action star, but I digress. The point is that answering that call brought me something personally better than I could have ever imagined on my own.

Each of us receives a call from God. Calls, in my opinion, are more common than uncommon. God calls us to life through the miracle of creation. And that gift of life is meant to be something extraordinary. We are not meant to exist simply to spend time suffering from war, poverty and disease. Jesus' call to the first Disciples is something we can still answer. There are issues that no individual alone can address and that only by answering that call as a united people of God can we help deliver on the great potential of creation.

This week churches across the country are celebrating Earth Day. Earth Day was started back in 1972 to draw attention to environmental issues as people began to see rivers polluted, acid rain fall from the sky, and the soil poisoned. Over time there has been a growing recognition that environmental issues are issues of faith and that as God's people we are called to defend creation from harm.

The Rev. Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist Church pastor involved with environmental justice issues. She reminds us that there are big and small ways we can answer God's call. She writes:

If we do not act responsibly, our children or grandchildren will suffer the consequences of our inaction. We know our society's addiction to fossil fuels is unsustainable, but we feel powerless to stop, hopeless to change the course of events. We try to lock out the reality that threatens the quality of the future of life on Earth. But Jesus empowers us with the Holy Spirit and sends us out to live resurrected lives, and to carry a message of forgiveness, hope, and transformation. We carry this message not just in words, but in the way we live.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. Can we believe God will bring us through these challenges? God is raising up people even now to carry on Christ's work. Christ is risen! We are not alone. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sign, not just of the promise of life after death, but of the power of God to transform the world and us. We are invited to accept and offer the peace, courage, forgiveness, and transforming power of the Holy Spirit that we have received. We are sent out as Christ's followers, not motivated by fear, but by faith in God's amazing power and by hope for positive change.

Each time we install an energy-efficient light bulb, it can be an act of faithfulness. Each time we ride our bike or take a bus, or walk, instead of driving it is a spiritual victory. Each time we plant a tree, it is a sign of hope. Each time we struggle to bring the necessary changes to our church, our community, our nation, or our world, we engage in action that can lead to change. Each time we make decisions that will lead to a better world for a grandchild or niece or nephew, or a child in Bangladesh, we share our faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead and who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can work through us even today to bring about God's future. In these ways we do our small part in helping to preserve God's creation, for the sake of the people we love, for the sake of the whole, for the sake of future generations.

Answering God's call to be a disciple does not have to be an individual act. It can be communal. But we must answer the call to Discipleship, serious involvement with faith combined with action, because the rewards are so great and the risks so terrible if we deny the truth of our existence. Listen to these Scripture stories and you will hear God calling you. There is much to be done and little time to wait.


You Can Run, But You Can't Hide:
Reflections on John 21:1-19

By Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie

Gospel: John 21:1-19

I led a Sunday School class on Palm Sunday a few weeks ago in which I invited participants to reflect on all the different responses people had to the empty tomb. We looked at the women fleeing in terror and amazement at the end of Mark (16:8). We discussed the women worshiping at the Risen Lord's feet in Matthew 28:9. We described them running to tell the disciples at the end of Luke (Lk 24:8). Finally, we came to the foot race between the beloved disciple and Simon Peter in John's gospel. The more aerobically fit "beloved disciple" gets there first, but hovers outside the tomb. Simon Peter arrives second, but bold and brash as usual, goes in and checks it out. "Then the disciples returned to their homes" (Jn 20:10).

I turned to the class and asked, "Why do you think Simon Peter, after making this amazing discovery of the empty tomb, went home?"

One of the men in the class said, with a grin, "He went home to hide from Jesus!"

Everyone laughed.

I had never thought of it that way before. You betray someone three times. You feel terrible, but since they're now dead, all you have to deal with is your guilt. But if they are actually alive, what you have to deal with is them, standing before you, demanding a reckoning.

Some scholars believe that the book of John originally ended with 20:30-31.

These verses mention "many other signs" Jesus did in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. The reference here is unclear. Does "many other signs" refer to signs recorded in a source from which John made key selections? Or does it refer to the miracles and healings recorded in the synoptic gospels? Or is it a broad reference to the "works" of Jesus, which include teachings as well as miracles? We're not sure what signs he refers to that he has not chosen to write down, but we are sure of his purpose in the events and teachings of the prior 20 chapters that he did choose to write down. His purpose is that those who already believe may be strengthened in their faith, and those who do not yet believe may come to belief.

Peter may have preferred it if the gospel had ended with John 20:30-31. If it had, his last two experiences with Jesus would have been in the safety of groups. In John 20:19-23, he could have gotten lost in the crowd as the Risen Lord passed through walls and proclaimed, "Peace be with you." In 20:24-29, he could have been a mere bystander as the Risen Lord dealt with the doubts of Thomas and chided him for them.

If the gospel had ended with 20:31, Peter could have breathed a sigh of relief at dodging the bullet of having to face the one he had betrayed and look him in the eye. But the gospel of John, as it has been handed down to us, continues with a series of interlocking scenes. First, Jesus appears to seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias and serves them breakfast. Then, after breakfast Jesus badgers Simon Peter with a thrice-repeated question, "Do you love me?" Finally, Peter questions Jesus about the role and future of the beloved disciple (Jn 21:21-23).

Peter doesn't know what lies ahead when he goes to the Sea of Tiberias and says, "I am going fishing." He may have been filled with a combined feeling of relief and grief, thinking to himself, "Well, he's alive in some strange way, and he doesn't seem to be angry with me, but it seems like my relationship with him is dead. What else is left for me, but to go back to who I was and what I used to do?"

He was unprepared for breakfast on the beach with the Risen Lord. The spotlight in this scene is on Simon Peter and Jesus. Simon Peter is the one who instigates the fishing expedition. The others had no more sense of direction or purpose than he did, so they went along (Jn 21:3, 4).

The beloved disciple recognizes Jesus as the one who is standing on the beach giving them instructions. Simon Peter's response is telling. He doesn't want to be naked before the Lord. So he throws on some clothes and jumps into the sea. Wouldn't one action or the other have been enough to cover his nakedness?

There are odd gaps in the story, too. It's not written like a modern-day novel. What is Simon Peter doing while he eats? Does he look down, ashamed to meet Jesus' eyes? Does he have any appetite at all? Does he stand by the fire to warm himself in his wet clothes?

When Jesus is finished grilling the fish and bread for breakfast, it's time for him to grill Peter. When Jesus questions Peter three times about his loyalty, John gives us a rare detail about Peter's emotions. "Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?'" I suppose he felt two times were justified, but not three. Of course, he didn't limit himself to denying Jesus twice. One commentator calls this conversation "Peter's rehabilitation and commissioning." "Do you love me?" and, if so, "Feed my lambs" (Brown, 1065).

Peter's reckoning doesn't end with being grilled by Jesus. He also is subjected to a grim vision of his own future, of a time when he, like Jesus, will be led where he doesn't want to go and will die a martyr's death (Jn 21:18).

There are as many responses to Easter today as there were then. Some flee from the strange news or consider it an "idle tale." Some worship at the feet of the Risen Lord. Some tell others the good news. And some return to their homes. But going home to hide from Jesus isn't an option for us any more than it was for Peter. For one thing, Jesus has forgiven us for whatever we have done or not done in the past. So there is no need to hide. For another, we can run, but we can't hide. He knows where we live. He stands on the shores of our lives. He stands at our front doors. And when we answer his knock, he has just two questions for us: "Do you love me?" and, if so, "What are you going to do about it?"

Sources Consulted

Raymond Brown, The Anchor Bible Commentary on John.
Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John.

About The Author:

Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

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