A Disciple Like Peter

May 5, 2019/John 21:1-19

Peter is my favorite disciple.

He was not afraid to ask the tough questions.  He was not afraid to declare that Jesus was the Lord, the Messiah, even when he wasn’t really sure what that meant.  He was not afraid to step out of his boat and tiptoe across the waves to Jesus, until he was afraid.  He was brazen and mouthy and way too full of confidence, given that eventually he would turn his back and deny his Lord just like all the others.

From the very beginning, he stood out from the other disciples.  Jesus took one look at Simon son of John and gave him the nickname that we all know him by.  You are Peter – the rock.  Rocks are solid and firm and unmoving.  Rocks are also dense and hard and thick-headed.  And Peter was all those things.

And after it was over – that is, after Jesus had been killed and then started showing up again, Peter still had a hard time recognizing his Lord.  Peter had spent three years with Jesus.  From the day Jesus called him away from his fishing nets, he had followed along through every step of Jesus’ ministry.  He had seen the healings, heard the teachings, witnessed the exorcisms.  He had watched as the crowds grew in number, until they could scarcely take a moment apart without having the people descend upon them, pleading for Jesus’ touch.

He had eaten at the same table as Jesus.  He had tasted the bread, had drunk the wine.  He had heard all that Jesus had told them about going to prepare a place for them, he had seen him hung from a cross, and he had gone to the empty tomb.  He sat there that night in the locked room as Jesus entered and ate bread with them.  He felt the brush of air go past him as Jesus breathed the Spirit on them.  But as the days went by, nothing happened.  Nothing changed.  With all that Jesus had told them, the disciples – and Peter – did not know what to do.  They did not know how to be sent people.

So Peter … went fishing.  He went fishing.  He returned to what was safe and comfortable and familiar.  As he set his nets and lifted the sails into that night, the smell of the sea and squeaking of the boat must have felt like putting on a pair of old shoes – soft and easy, no pinching, no sore spots.

But suddenly, there was Jesus on the shore, cooking fish for their breakfast.  And as Peter joined him there, around that charcoal fire, he surely remembered another charcoal fire, one in the courtyard of the high priest.  He surely remembered that in that place, warming himself in the dark while Jesus faced his accusers inside, he faced questions from a woman, from the police, from the slaves.  “Are you not also one of this Man’s disciples?”  And he surely remembered his answer – “No, I am not.”  Three times.  “No, I am not.”  And he surely remembered the crowing of the cock.

After they had finished breakfast, the risen Jesus finally turned to Peter.  This disciple whom Jesus had declared his rock, the one who had denied him three times, must have cringed inside when Jesus turned to him.  And his question!  “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Three times.  “Simon son of John, do you love me? … Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Three times, Peter answered.  Three times.  “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. … Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. … Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  And Jesus looked at him and, loving him, asked him to become a shepherd.  “Feed my sheep.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”

Jesus did not ask Peter if he was qualified or committed or even willing.  And he did not ask if Peter was sorry – if he regretted denying his Lord.  No, Jesus simply asked, “Do you love me?”

Jesus invited Peter to become a servant-leader, a shepherd “who, night and day, nourishes, gathers, rescues, restores and needs the community as much as it needs him.”[1]  Jesus invited Peter to go where he leads, to be vulnerable, to be unsuccessful by the world’s standards – “to go where power is abandoned in favor of love.”[2]

Peter did not really have much to recommend him as an apostle.  And that is why, I think, I love him so much.  Because Peter’s story reminds us that no one is beyond redemption – that Christ can work in anyone.  That’s what he does with Peter.  Jesus stops him in his tracks.  His love calls him – and it is personal.  Jesus meets Peter right where Peter needs to meet him.

Just as he meets us.  In the midst of our everyday, in our ordinary circumstances, Christ accompanies us, opens our eyes to his presence.  Peter cannot go back to fishing.  And we cannot go back, either.  Going home to hide from Jesus is not an option.

“Do you love me?  Then feed my sheep.”

[1] Dan Clendenin, “A Fire of Burning Coals,” journeywithjesus.net, accessed April 3, 2016

[2] Ibid.


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