Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’.
Peter had returned to what he knew.
No more of the travelling life for him. No more of the healings and the wonders. No more of the fragile hope of holding the keys of the kingdom, binding on earth and binding in heaven. Not so much rock as pebble.
For he had betrayed his friend. And not once, not twice, but three times, his denial echoing loudly in that busy courtyard.
So, though a miracle had happened – Jesus had risen – Peter returned to what he knew: fishing.
Not for people, but for fish.
And it had been a long night. But with the dawn had come a shout across the water, a miraculous catch, and breakfast on the beach at a charcoal fire. Hope stirred again as a friendship was renewed.
Then, sometime later, Peter and Jesus went for a walk. And Jesus asked him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Not once, not twice, but three times. ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Once for each betrayal of friendship.
And Peter replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Three times he said this. Restoration for each betrayal of friendship. And, each time, Jesus responded by asking him to feed and care for his sheep.
For Peter, friendship with Jesus would mean caring for his people – for Jesus’ sheep, his friends. And though the call to shepherding may have been specific to Peter, this call to loving people was not his alone. In the invitation of friendship made just before Gethsemane, Jesus had told the disciples that the marker of their friendship with him would be their offer of the same love to others (John 15:12–17).
For Peter, friendship with Jesus meant friendship with people. Loving him meant loving his sheep.
It was true for the disciples, and it is true for us. To be friends of God, we must offer friendship-love to colleagues, neighbours, the people at the gym, the school gate, the pub, and so on. We’re not only called to share what we have, but also our very selves. This kind of love is not emotionally distant. We don’t have to bare our souls completely or immediately, of course. But, over time, we can aim to offer something of who we are, making time for people, seeking to love them personally rather than impersonally, and hoping for mutual relationship to grow.
Dr Chloe Lynch
Lecturer in Practical Theology, London School of Theology
Perhaps you keep your frontline relationships relatively distant, doing things for others but rarely letting them see much of the rest of your life. How can you appropriately open up to people on your frontline, showing them what’s important to you? Join the conversation below.