In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (1)
These words, so beautiful, so compelling, mark the beginning of John’s Gospel. Over the centuries these words have inspired many people; people of all faiths and people with no faith. They inspired a heartbroken rabbi just this week, as he struggled to comfort his congregants as he and they grieved over the senseless murder of a much beloved member. These words, and those that follow , set the tone for the author of John’s gospel, so different from the three gospels that precede it. Today we receive John’s final words of insight and direction through Jesus’s third and last appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection.
In the previous chapter, Jesus gave them the gift of his Holy Spirit (which the writer of Acts so eloquently gives us when we celebrate Pentecost on June 9th). Then these simple fisherman flee from the horrendous events in Jerusalem to resume their life on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius (more often referred to as the Sea of Galilee).But Jesus isn’t through with them. As the saying goes, We make plans and God laughs.
I’ve been wondering, as I thought about this sermon, why John chose this particular encounter, since it is not nearly as stunning as his opening. And the ending is riddled with odd statements that don’t seem to connect with anything. I’m not going to even attempt to make sense out of belts around the waist or what kind of death Jesus would experience. What I would like us to think about is the “Do you love me? ” and “Feed my sheep.” Jesus is addressing Peter and the others in a very familiar and touching way. Peter hasn’t been exactly a faithful disciple. He often misses the point of Jesus’ teaching; he can’t stay awake to be with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, he denies him three times as Jesus is thrown into the hands of people who want him dead. Even when he sees the empty tomb, what does he do? He runs away and locks himself in his room with the other disciples, then eventually rushes off home to resume fishing. (2) This is the man Jesus now addresses. “Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me ,Simon son of John? Tend my sheep.”
And a third time: Still addressing him personally by name: “Simon son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” Each time Peter professes his love for Jesus. “Yes Lord, you know that I love you”.Really?! Does Peter have any self awareness at all? If he loves Jesus so much, how has he shown it in the previous weeks? He is hurt by these questions and seems unaware of his earlier betrayals.
Aha! Now I think I know what the answer is to the question I’ve been asking myself for about 2 weeks. Why did the author of John put this lesson at the end of his gospel? I think it is so we can see the way Jesus feels about his wayward disciples, his acceptance of Peter as he is, his care for him, His forgiveness of him , and,, by extension, understand how He feels about all his other followers thru the ages and, US. He doesn’t let Peter and the others off the hook, but clearly forgives them and continues to trust them to follow the path to His Father that he has proclaimed.
He gives the disciples, not just Peter, but all of them their marching orders. This is what they are to do and to be for the rest of their lives. Risking everything to proclaim God’s love to a world that sorely needs it, to all the lost sheep of the world. (2). And, miracle of miracles, Peter and the others do it!! They do it! They travel the known world followed by our Patron Saint, St. Paul, healing, praying, gathering the followers of Jesus to share His Spirit thru the bread and wine made Holy and the world, our world, is never the same.We know what Jesus wants us to do and John, here at the end of his message assures us that He and His Father in Heaven, will never abandon us while we try. God, the Hound of Heaven (3) and his Son, pursued Peter to his safe place and he pursues us, inspires us and accepts us unconditionally.Our path to God is through Jesus to all people, most particularly those in greatest need. He knows our weaknesses, our failings, our brokenness, our false starts and he is with us anyway, forgives us and continues to guide us. Jesus, loving us, asks us: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep!” AMEN
EASTER 3: MAY 5TH, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral,
The Rev Canon Dorothy Curry
John 21: 14-19
(1). John 1: 1-5
(2). Today in Focus, 5 May, “Share the Good News”, Marilyn J. Sweet
(3). Francis Thompson’s poem, “Hound of Heaven”