Here we meet the emotional anchor of John 21, and indeed one of the most intensive vocational encounters in the entire bible. Read John 21:15-19 to appreciate the complex narrative John so ambitiously and adeptly weaves together for his church and for us.
We stay by the lakeshore after breakfast. Jesus breaks the reverent silence knowing this moment must come. For a moving visual please see the contemporary metalwork outside the Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha, Galilee, here. Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves Him, once for each betrayal on that horrific night before Jesus’ execution. Now Peter knows exactly his answer, from his heart. Various scholars make big whup around what Greek word is used for love, and sheep, and flock, and tend versus feed. You don’t need their academic nuance to be profoundly impacted by Jesus’ unbelievable love for Peter, so reminiscent of the loving Father in Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. Peter receives not just commutation but also vocation, for this one Johnannine moment with BD sitting silently in the scene. Peter will feed, tend and nurture, perhaps representing a late 1st century shift from Petrine churches being evangelistic to more pastoral in focus.
And then, the haunting 21:18. I never understood this verse until I helped lift my ailing father out of a chair in his care center using a nurse’s lifting strap. Dad put his arms out, I laced the strap around him, he looked up into my eyes and I burst into uncontrolled sobbing. Those strong arms which had lifted me all those years now needed help to go where he did not wish to go. I’m not at all sure I concur with John’s commentary in 21:19! Is this a historical prophecy regarding how Peter will be martyred, which by this point chronologically everyone already knew, or is this a much broader statement upon the inevitable journey of life culminating in old age dependent upon God’s graceful provision. Or both. After all, with John it can be both or even more variated beyond the presentation on the page! In any case, Jesus concludes with a simple Follow me. How Matthew, Mark and Luke open their gospel is how John closes his…follow me anyway.
- To what vocation have you been called by Jesus? What divine mission have you been tasked to complete, fulfill, address, tackle? If unclear, how about asking Him?
- Have you received such gracious, gentle love from the Risen Jesus? How have you been forgiven, or released, or commuted in your spiritual journey?
- What in the world is happening in 21:18 for you?! How do you read/interpret/receive this enigmatic verse in your life?!