Do You Love me?

Third Sunday of Easter – Resurrection Appearances

John 21;1-19

Some think that the 4th Gospel originally ended with the climax of the resurrection appearances in Jerusalem and the words, “the world cannot contain the books that should be written about all the things Jesus did.” [John 20;25] Yet there is a final chapter 21 which seems to stand alone as a mystical appendix, added by John “the beloved disciple”, at a later date. This is the passage we reflect upon after Easter.

The setting is the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee where the disciples were first called from their boats. [Luke 5] Why did these disciples now return to their nets as if the resurrection encounters made little difference? Galilee was the scene of their initial meeting with the Lord, the feeding of the multitude with bread and two small fishes. This lakeside meeting with the “risen Christ” has familiar echoes with those earlier days. Was the charcoal fire especially important too because it recalled the fire in Jerusalem where Peter had warmed himself as he denied the Lord and where his leadership had collapsed? This scene involves the same seven key disciples who now seem to have been so uncertain that they returned home to their former familiar life, still seem unable to make a catch by themselves or see their future.

Raphael, Christ’s Charge to Peter [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

If chapter 21, was really added at a later date by the “beloved disciple” then the passage must have special importance. St John is the Church’s theologian, the first who recognises Jesus and closest to grasping the mystery of “godly love” within the fellowship of followers. The dialogue that John records after the lakeside breakfast brings to mind the transformation of Isaiah’s calling, for like Peter, the prophet thought he was unworthy and “a man of unclean lips” but whose lips were purified by the Angel with charcoal to enable him to become the mouthpiece of God’s Word. Simon Peter is the flawed leader who needs to take into himself that the resurrection is not just a trampling down of evil and death, but a power to transform his own being and to fulfil his mission. He was aware that he was no Rock but still a sinful man of “unclean lips.” [Luke 5;8].

Peter’s transformation begins with the memorable dialogue witnessed by John and the three crucial questions Jesus puts to Simon Peter. “Do you love me” (that Christ like love). Yes I love you as a friend and brother. “Feed my sheep”. “Do you love me with that costly love?” “Yes Lord, I love you as a brother”. Peter must be transformed from a disciple and friend into an apostle and “be carried where he does not wish to go”. No longer just convinced by the resurrection but changed by it. Only then will Peter become the Rock of the future Apostolic Church.

Pascha means “crossing over” to the other shore, leaving Galilee and the old life, as the Hebrews had left Egyptian slavery. This was to be Simon Peter’s crossing to become the rock, able fearlessly to speak as Christ’s apostle and to be the foundation of the Church Catholic. John the “beloved disciple” sees this clearly and wrote as the Elder Apostle about that powerful love that the Lord brought into the world that went far beyond friendship. Surely he wrote having lived long enough to see the life of the Church being built upon transforming love that Jesus Christ had asked of Peter being acted out by more and more converts. St John still writes for you and me.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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