Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

2nd Sunday After New Sunday

Sermon / Homily on St. John 21: 15 -19

"Do You Love Me?" - Gospel Analysis

by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, Washington

Do you love me? What a question. What words. What poignancy. We hear that question often in our lives when someone wants assurance from us that we love them. We ask that question when we need assurance that we are loved. The question is so basic: Do you love me?

Like many of you, I enjoyed the musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. In that classic story, there is the old Jewish patriarch by the name of Tevye and the old Jewish matriarch by the name of Golde (pronounced Golda). They have been married for twenty-five long years. They have gone through so much together in Old Mother Russia at the turn of the century. The following scene between old worn out Tevye and old worn out Golde is a classic. It flows like this:

(It may be helpful to warble the following lines as Tevye did in the musical. Tevye's voice was a grumbling, rumbling, intonation of the words. Better yet, maybe two people from the congregation can play/sing the following scene as the part of the introduction to the sermon.)

"Golde, I have decided to give Perchik permission to become engaged to our daughter, Hodel."

"What??? He's poor! He has nothing, absolutely nothing!"

"He's a good man, Golde.
I like him. And what's more important, Hodel likes him. Hodel loves him.
So what can we do?
It's a new world... A new world. Love. Golde..."

Do you love me? (intoned in a style similar to old Tevye)

Do I what?

Do you love me?

Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion

"Golde I'm asking you a question..."
Do you love me?

You're a fool


"I know..."
But do you love me?

Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

I was shy

I was nervous

So was I

But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

I'm your wife

"I know..."
But do you love me?

Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

Then you love me?

I suppose I do

It may not change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know

The question is persistent throughout life. Do you love me? We can hear old Tevye asking this persistent question to Golde, his wife of twenty-five years. Tevye wants to know.

It is with this mood that we approach the gospel lesson for today in which Simon Peter, the big fisherman and the leader of the disciples, is asked that same question by Jesus three times. Do you love me? Jesus wants to know about Peter's love.

The resurrection scene for today is classic. It is memorable. It is told by the Apostle John, who is the only eye witness of our four gospels. In the Gospel of John, we consistently hear juicy little historical details again and again in his account of Jesus' life. Such as the juicy historical details of a bowl full of vinegar at the foot of the cross. The juicy historical details of Jesus walking in the temple in the winter in the portico of Solomon. The juicy historical details of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus bending down and writing or doodling with his finger on the ground. The juicy historical detail that when Jesus was on the cross, the blood and water spurted out of Jesus' side when his body was poked by a lance of a Roman centurion. Again and again, the Gospel of John has given us juicy little historical details from Jesus' life, juicy little historical details that could only be reported by a first hand witness who was there on the scene. Such as John himself. The story for today is again full of those juicy little historical details.

Let us look at the details of the story for today. Would you please take out your bulletin insert and have a pen or pencil ready to scribble notes on the page?

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. This is the third time in the Gospel of John that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples. The first was to Mary Magdalene in the garden and the second was to doubting Thomas and the other disciples. We know these famous stories. We know the Mary Magdalene story and we know the doubting Thomas story.

by the Sea of Tiberias; This is the Sea of Galilee or Lake Galilee. Only in John's gospel is it called the Sea of Tiberius. John 6:1. We don't know how the disciples got back up north eighty miles to the Sea of Galilee after the events of Good Friday and Easter. But this scene occurs not in Jerusalem, but up north eighty miles. The disciples are back home on their home turf. By reading the story too quickly, you may not realize that the location of this story is eighty miles north of Jerusalem and Lake Galilee.

and he showed himself in this way.

Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Count them up: there are seven disciples. Write the number: seven disciples. Nathaniel was part of the inner twelve disciples but we heard about him in John, chapter 1. The sons of Zebedee are James and John. The "John" is the beloved disciple, the unnamed author of the Gospel of John.

Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.' Peter was back to his old home and his old lake and his old fishing grounds and he and his buddies were going fishing.

They said to him, 'We will go with you.' They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. We can see all these fishermen out in a boat. It must have been a big boat to get all seven disciples in it. Archeological studies tell us about an boat from 2000 years ago that was found in the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and that boat was twenty-six feet long. Yes, all those disciples all could have been in one boat.

Just after daybreak, We are at the crack of dawn.

Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Initially, the disciples did not recognize Jesus. We will soon discover that the boat was a hundred yards out in the water, and from a hundred yards, you often don't recognize the identity of someone on the shore.

Jesus said to them, 'Children, you have no fish, have you?' They answered him, 'No.' How did Jesus, from a hundred yards off shore, know that they didn't have any fish? This theme of Jesus "knowing everything" is woven throughout the stories of Jesus. For example, before it happened, Jesus knew he was going to suffer and be "lifted up" onto a Roman cross. He knew by what kind of death he was going to die. He also knew in advance that he was going to be raised on the third day. Yes, the gospels tell us that Jesus knew everything including that the disciples didn't have any fish in their boat even if they were a hundred yards off shore. He also calls his disciples "children" and he does this repeatedly in the book of I John.

He said to them, 'Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The right side of the boat. Circle the word, "right." It is another juicy little historical detail by an eyewitness. Fish often gathered in large schools in Lake Galilee and it seems the disciples were into a large school of fish…on the right side of the boat.

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter. Here is the author of the fourth gospel. He refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.

'It is the Lord!' John is the one who first understands what is happening. The disciples are experiencing a miracle similar to what happened in the story of from the Gospel of Luke, chapter five, about fishing all night and catching nothing.

When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. There is one commentary about the Gospel of John that stands heads and shoulders above all commentaries. Raymond Brown, a Catholic scholar, wrote this commentary. Brown tells us that Peter was not literally naked or in the buff but that the Greek word can also mean, "lightly clad." Near the word, "naked," write the word, "lightly clad." It was a fisherman's smock and "Peter tucked it into his cincture so that he could swim more easily and he dove into the water." You can feel the details in this scene written by John, the beloved disciple because he was there, recording what he saw in his mind. You can also feel the impulsiveness of Peter.

But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, Again and again, John gives us several good historical details. The other disciples remain in the boat. The net is full. The boat is dragging the net.

for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. Literally, the boat was 200 cubits off the land. A cubit was a Jewish measurement. We translate the 200 cubits and it was about one hundred yards off the land. A nice historical detail.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there. We also recall that Peter was around a charcoal fire in the home of Caiaphus, the high priest, the night that Peter denied Jesus three times. We are getting warm. That is, the clue is being laid for us. This resurrection story is about Peter who previously denied Jesus three times and is now going to be asked by Jesus three times, "Do you love me?" There are two charcoal fires in John: here and on the night in which Peter denied Jesus three times. Again, a historical detail.

with fish on it, and bread. It was like the resurrected Christ was going to have fish and bread for breakfast. We recall a similar resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke that the resurrected Jesus took a piece of boiled fish and ate it so they would see that he was not a bodiless ghost.

Jesus said to them, 'Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.' So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore. You see the detail. It is Simon who went on board and hauled the net to shore. Like always, it was Peter who was making the first move.

full of large fish. We as fishermen are usually mentioning the word, "large." It is a nice little juicy detail.

a hundred fifty-three of them; According to Raymond Brown, the best scholar and exegete on this text, interpreters have argued for centuries about the meaning of the number, 153. Nobody can find any legitimate and reasonable interpretation of the number 153. Brown finally concludes that an "authentic eyewitness … was present." What does the number 153 mean? Nothing except that an eyewitness was present who counted the number of fish. "How many did you catch today?" We can understand that comment.

and though there were so many, the net was not torn. The net in Luke 5 was torn but this one wasn't.

Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'

Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, 'Who are you?' because they knew it was the Lord. That makes sense to us. We would keep our mouths shut too, wondering what was happening.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. Some scholars suggest that this event was like Holy Communion but with fish rather than wine. I don't think so. John 6 is clearly the most powerful passage in the New Testament about Holy Communion, when Jesus says "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die." This passage in John 21 is not about the Eucharist, from my point of view.

This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. In the Gospel of John, the first resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene in the garden. The second resurrection appearance was to doubting Thomas and the disciples.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Now, we are getting into the action, and the point of the story.

'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?' Underline, "more than these." And write "boats, nets, fish, food, family, friends." My guess is that Jesus was referring all of these things that were there on the shore. Why did Peter deny Jesus three times in the first place? Wasn't it to protect his skin, to protect his own life? Wasn't it because he instinctively did not want to die? Why didn't Peter want to die? I think it was because he, like all of us, loved life and the things of this life such as family, friends, fish, boats, nets, etc. Peter loved this life and he didn't want to die. It is simple as that. That is why I think Peter denied Jesus in the first place. He loved the things of life way more than the possibility of his premature death.

Jesus also asks us that same basic question: Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than your family, your friends, your occupation? This is a personal question for each one of us. We, too, like Peter, will come to that time and place in our lives when Jesus will ask us that fundamental question: Do you love me more than these things and people?

He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Good. Peter has it right.

Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' Peter becomes the good shepherd who is to feed and care for the Christian flock. That is what the faithful church of Christ always does: feeds and cares for the flock. If you love Jesus, you feed the flock. The flock of Jesus are like little lambs and need to be fed the Word, Jesus, the Bread of life.

A second time he said to him, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' We can hear the persistent sound of Tevye's voice. Do you love me? This is the issue. Jesus wants to be assured that Peter loves him. Jesus is not sure about the reliability of Peter's love and so Jesus asks Peter a second time, "Do you love me?"

He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' Jesus wants to be assured that he is loved, just as Tevye wanted to be assured that he was loved by Golde. There are times in our lives and in our spouse's lives where we want assurance that we are truly loved more than any one else. That is what is going on in this text. Jesus wants the assurance that Peter loves him more than anything else. Jesus wants assurance from us that we love Jesus more than anything else.

Jesus said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' If you love me, take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Take care of the flock that is entrusted to you.

He said to him the third time, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?' The story is classic. Jesus is persistent. A third time Jesus asks the same basic question that Tevye asked of Golde and we often ask of each other.

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.' Yes, it has proven to be true. Jesus, our Lord, does know everything.

Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep. That is what shepherds do. Feed the sheep. And that is what pastors also do. The word, "pastor" is a Latin word, and the word "pastor" simply means shepherd. The shepherd is to feed and care for the flock.

What does it mean for us to care for and feed the flock. That is what Jesus wants from us. We are to care for those around us in need. We are to spiritually feed each other with the Bread and wine, with the Presence of Jesus, with the Bread of life. Parents not only provide food for their children's bellies but food for their children' s souls.

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. When you were young, you Peter could dress yourself, and were free to go about as you wanted, but now, Peter, you are getting older …

But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.' (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) Bingo. This is the point of the story. We finally got to the core. To the kernel. Jesus knows everything…including the death by which Peter was going to die, by Roman crucifixion, being lifted up onto the cross. Jesus knew that eventually, in his old age, that Simon Peter was going to die by crucifixion. It did come true. Simon Peter died a martyr's death, on a cross, in Rome. Peter who had denied Jesus three times at the home of Caiaphus would be faithful to Jesus onto death. Jesus knew the future and prophesied about Peter's future faithfulness and death.

After this he said to him, 'Follow me.' That is what the Resurrected Christ wants from Peter and from you and me.

I love that musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. I saw it for the first time years ago, when Zero Mostel played the part. Zero Mostel was in the original Broadway cast. So many decades ago, I heard him intone with his gravely voice, "Do you love me?" Again, "Do you love me?" And a third time, "Do you love me?" Those persistence of those questions have always remained in my soul.

And that is the persistent question that Jesus asks of his disciples? Do you love me?


See Also:

More Sermons and Bible Commentaries on Lectionary Passage for 2nd Sunday after New Sunday

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