Day 325 – Feed My Lambs

Today’s reading: John 21

Today we read the last chapter of John’s Gospel.  Not surprisingly, he ends with some even more striking parallels.  It starts off with a seemingly innocuous statement by Peter, “I’m going fishing.”

While it’s not surprising that Peter is going fishing, a man’s got to eat, but really this can be seen a failure on Peter’s part.  He’s given up.  He doesn’t know what to do next so he’s going back to what he knew before.  Peter met this man Jesus, he followed him, he saw him crucified and resurrected, but Peter doesn’t really know how he will go on in the world.  So he’s going to his safety net, he’s going back to earning a living.

We have come full circle.  When Jesus and Peter first met, he had Peter put out into the water and fish.  Then, Jesus took Peter out into the sea, representing danger and the unknown.  The first part of the journey is now complete.  Whereas when they first met they go out to fish, now while he is fishing Jesus calls Peter back to the safety of the shore.  He calls Peter to safety with Him.  Discipleship is a journey.  It will take us out into the unknown.  There will be storms and we will feel alone (remember when Jesus walked on water and came to the Apostles during the storm) but not really be alone.  Ultimately, Jesus will bring us to a new shore with him.

On the shore, Jesus has a charcoal fire burning.  This is significant because when Peter denied Jesus three times they were around a charcoal fire.  Then the fire was built because it was cold and Peter sought comfort by it rather than staying with the Lord.  Now, the sun is rising and warmth is coming.  The fire is not to keep away the cold but to share food. The last time we saw Jesus next to this sea he fed the 5,000 by multiplying the loaves and fishes.  Again the meal is bread and fish.  Again the events are connected.  Recall that after feeding the 5,000 is when Jesus gave the Bread of Life discourse.  Here regarding the meal, they eat on the beach the Bible says

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them…

John 21:13

These are the same words that are used each time the Eucharist is described.  Again we see that Jesus comes to us now in the Eucharist.  Jesus is providing for his disciple’s both spiritual and mortal food.  Everything comes from Him.  He is showing Peter, he does not need to go back to his old job.  The Lord will provide.

Next, three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and three times Peter answers “Yes”.  The three Yes’ make up for the three times Peter denied Jesus.  Notice, by appearing to him before his three “Yes’”, Jesus has, in effect, already forgiven Peter for this offense.  However, Peter must still articulate his “apology”.  Peter must make a confession even though he has already been forgiven.  Notice the penance is proportionate to the offense.

Jesus’ response to Peter’s three answers is significant.  Three times Peter says he loves Jesus, three times Jesus says:

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

This goes back to John 10 when Jesus said

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jn 10:11

Many people think that when Jesus calls Peter “the Rock” is the only time Jesus installs Peter as the head of the Church.  That is not correct.  When Simon is renamed Peter, that is a future promise that on him the Church will be built.  Here, we see the resurrected Jesus giving Peter care over all his disciples. Here Peter becomes the head of the Church, the shepherd of the new flock.  Notice the further parallel:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jn 10:11

and

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jn 21:17-19

When Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd he notes that he will lay down his life for the sheep.  When Jesus puts the sheep in Peter’s care he tells Peter that he “will stretch out his hands” a reference to crucifixion.  Peter will also give his life for the sheep.  Peter was in fact crucified in A.D. 67.  He was the first shepherd of the new Church.

Thus, much of the final chapter of John is about Peter.  How God has taken his man, a rough, impulsive, blue-collar, relatively simple but fiercely loyal and brave man and carefully guided him to the place where he needs to be.  He is ready.  He is ready to lead a new religion.  The odds are stacked against him.  His Jewish brothers will oppose him.  The political structure of Rome will be against him.  He will make mistakes, he might be scared and he may even have doubts but he just needs to rest on the shore of the safety of the Lord.  God will provide the bread and the fish.  Jesus will ask him to do hard things, even to the point of giving up his life but the reward is eternal life.

Tomorrow: 1 John 1

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