Reading for Monday, Jan. 30: John 21
John 21 concludes John’s Gospel account. The central exchange here is between the risen Jesus and Simon Peter. This isn’t the first Resurrection encounter between Jesus and His disciples, but as the narrative indicates, Jesus still has some unfinished business with Peter.
Peter announces to the disciples that he’s up for some fishing. After the events of the past few weeks, he probably wanted to return to something “normal”, something he understood. Fishing was probably more than just “work” for Peter; I suspect he’s looking for some way to process all that he’s seen and experienced. Given the context of his conversation with Jesus, I’d also guess that he’s still guilt-wracked over his denial. A little muscle memory activity seems to be in order for Peter. Let the mind rest while the body gets to work.
But as He’s prone to do, Jesus shows up in just these circumstances. After a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus appears on the shore and calls out to the group. Per His command, a miraculous catch finds its way into their nets and the abundance leads the beloved disciple to exclaim, “It is the Lord!” (We haven’t said much about it in our study, but John’s Gospel clearly associates abundance with the life and ministry of Jesus. Far from being a prosperity Gospel, John gives us a glimpse of the overflowing abundance of the great Messianic banquet table envisioned in the Old Testament, over which Jesus presides. This is, I believe, part of the abundant life Jesus makes available to us.)
At this recognition, Peter rushes to Jesus and their conversation dominates the remainder of the chapter. After eating breakfast (the image of the resurrected Jesus eating a meal flies in the face of many of our “ghostly”, disembodied ideas of what our bodies will be like in heaven), Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Much has been made of John’s use of “agape” and “phileo” in this exchange between Jesus and Peter: Jesus asks, “Do you agape me?”, meaning “Do you love me with the highest kind of selfless love possible?” And Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, I phileo you,” or “Yes, Lord, I love you as a brother.” Most scholars of John’s Gospel point out that John uses the terms interchangeably at times without hesitation; thus, we might be making too big of a deal out of the verbs he’s using here. It seems to me that what really bothers Peter is that Jesus continues to ask the question.
Three times Jesus asks; three times Peter replies; and three times Jesus affirms Peter. And I love that He gives Him the same call, the same words that started this whole thing: “Follow me!” After all they had been through, after all the denying and wavering and all the moments of weakness, Jesus comes back to that initial moment when Peter left it all behind for the sake of the call. He returns to the simple call: “Follow me!” I find those to be the most challenging words in all of Scripture. But those words hold the key to life. Peter accepts this reinstatement and, in so doing, gives a little bit of hope to the rest of us. In my own life, I know Jesus has continually issued those words to me after I’ve let Him down, after I’ve betrayed Him, after I’ve wavered and fallen…He comes back to me, much like He did with Peter, and He looks me in the eye and He says once again, “Will you follow me, Jason?” This is what grace looks like.
Finally, it’s interesting that John doesn’t record an ascension story at the conclusion of his Gospel. Instead, he closes up shop in much the same way Matthew does: with the image of the risen Lord moving among His followers, encouraging them, restoring them, equipping them for the task at hand.