Following Christ into the Places We are Unwilling to Go
Thoughts about the Bible story in John 21:1-19
Jesus appears to the disciples for the third time following His resurrection on the shore of the
Sea of Galilee. It is an encounter filled with symbolism that ultimately defines Jesus’ call to us.
When Jesus appears, the disciples are busy fishing, an indication that they may not fully understand or are not fully committed to sharing what they have experienced through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They have returned to the only trade they know, commercial fishing, but they are not having a successful day. Until Jesus arrives, they have been unable to catch anything. But when Jesus appears, He instructs them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat and their nets are filled. It’s similarity to their initial call from Christ in the Gospels cannot be ignored, and it is in this moment that they realize that the risen Christ is in their midst.
Peter rushes to the shore to greet Jesus who is seated around a fire cooking fish and warming loaves of bread. This setting serves as a reminder of when Jesus fed the five thousand.
This is an uncomfortable place for Peter and it becomes more uncomfortable when Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him three times. Traditionally, it is believed that He asks Peter three times to absolve Peter’s denial. However, in his blog, John Petty points out that, in the first two instances, Jesus uses the word agapes-unconditional love. The last time, Jesus uses the word phileis-brotherly love. Each time, Peter responds that he does love Jesus, but with a phileis love, not an agape one. “In other words, Peter’s “love” is not at the same level as the “love” in Jesus’ question.
Peter does not fully understand what is happening in this exchange- just as he did not fully understand the purpose of Jesus’ life and ministry. Nevertheless, in spite of Peter’s disappointing performance in this dialog, Jesus calls him to care for His sheep, and to follow Him even if it results in his death.
The fact of the matter is Peter may never have fully understood the significance of Jesus Christ. He may never have loved Christ in the way Christ desired. He may never have been fully committed to the work of a disciple. If anything, Peter often appears to be an unwilling participant. And yet, in spite of all of this, Jesus still asks Peter to follow Him and tend to the needs of other believers. Jesus entrusts Peter, as unwilling as he might be, with the care of the Christian community – the Church.
And Jesus does the same with us. Jesus does not expect us to have a comprehensive understanding of theological significance of the Gospel. Jesus does not expect us to be fully committed to the work of discipleship. Jesus does not even expect us to love Him as much as He loves us. The truth of the matter is, Jesus expects a certain amount of ignorance, disbelief, and reluctance from us. And yet, time and time again, Jesus calls us to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ-to follow Him even into the places we are reluctant or unwilling to go. The question is, will we?
This devotional is written by the Reverend Bryan Bellamy who is the Associate Pastor of Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.