Text: John 21: 15- 19
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 youlove 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 andlead 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!”
There are some people on the dinner table who are called the fast eaters. As soon as the grace for food is said the morsel is in their mouth and the food is over. Some are the conventional slow eaters who eat less and talk more. They take ages to finish the food testing the patience of hosts and guests alike. I belong to the latter category where I have had the most intense conversations regarding bible, faith and world affairs over a dining table having breakfast, lunch or dinner. Friends in seminary have had dried hands talking to me, patiently waiting for me to finish my task of eating. But the conversations over the dining table have been vital in cementing relationships and friendships. In the text above we are at a breakfast table hosted by Jesus after his resurrection. Dining has been very important to Jesus ministry pre and post resurrection. After the Last Supper where Jesus had fellowship with his disciples, we had one of the disciples betray Jesus and one who denied Jesus 3 times. Let us turn to John 18: 17 and 18. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. What is interesting here is in vs 18 we see a Charcoal fire where Peter denied Jesus. Here after the resurrection where Peter and the rest of the disciples come to the shore after having caught 153 fishes,what do they see? “When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals therewith fish on it, and some bread.” (John 21: 9) Here before sitting for breakfast we have burning coals. It is in the background of the burning coal,that Jesus after the breakfast asks Peter 3 times “Do you love me?” It is in front of a burning coal that he denies Jesus 3 times and now it is in front of the burning coal that he affirms his love 3 times for Jesus.
On the Table after having breakfast, Jesus and Peter have the most important conversation. The question Jesus asks is what Peter would have loved to avoid. Peter always liked to avoid pain and this is evident from his response to Jesus at Caesarea Philippi where he rebuked Jesus for talking about suffering and crucifixion. (Mark 8: 31- 33) His 3 times denial also indicated this trend. So Jesus questions to Peter of “Do you love me” evoked pain. It caused deep hurt to Peter. But this pain was necessary. After every question Jesus commissioned Peter as “Feed my lambs”(21:15), “Tend my sheep”(21:16)and “Feed my sheep”(21:17). His commission was to be a Shepherd. This should be read in conjunction with the Good Shepherd Discourse by Jesus in John Chapter 10. “and I lay down my life for the sheep”(10:15b). So when Jesus said “Follow me”, it was a commission for Peter to lay down his life. An invitation to engage with pain and death. Today we have made Resurrection very commercial. Walter Fernandes says that “Trouble with faith in the market oriented faith is that we have become consumers. We are interested to follow Christ because we believe we will receive his blessings. It is a deal where prosperity of the self is the main concern. Peter Collins says “I deny the Resurrection when I see poverty, anguish and pain all around and do nothing about it.” It is an indictment on our faith that encourages a self centred life style. But resurrection is the call to engage with pain. It is a call to be messengers of resurrection. It is a costly call of sacrifice. We are not called to be consumers but co- workers with the Risen Christ to bring about Resurrection in situations of pain, poverty and tragedy. John 21: 18 and 19 signifies the sacrifice that Peter had to give where he was crucified upside down for his faith.
In some ways we are like Peter. We would choose to avoid pain and painful situations. In our culture even talking about disease or death is a taboo. We dread hospitals. With so much of injustice and poverty around us, we live in total denial of it. We have enough entertainments to help us forget about these things. Huge malls and online shopping has helped us live in a parallel world. For us, the virtual looks more real and consequently real has become distant and virtual. We all are guilty of this. But resurrection is a call to engage with the pain and struggles of the people.
Recently I met an incredible person in a Conference on Globalization conducted by North East Social Research Centre (NESRC), Guwahati. I got to know her even more over a conversation at the Dining table during the Lunch break. Her name is Sister Mary Scaria. She told me “I was a teacher. I love teaching. My turning point came when one of my tribal students was raped. This disturbed my conscience. I was deeply troubled. I had to do something. I just could not be a spectator. That is when I decided to enroll myself for law.” Today Sr Mary Scaria is an Advocate with the Supreme Court. She champions the cause of women who face atrocities. Her clients are those who cannot afford legal aid. She encountered an event in her life that caused immense pain. She chose to behurt. She decided to be the wounded healer.
It is a challenge in front of us to respond to injustice that we encounter in our society. Sometimes we become so helpless and bitter that we resign to the circumstances. We tell ourselves that nothing can be done. As a people who believe in Resurrection, we are called to sacrifice to bring the hope of resurrection for people who are voiceless and suppressed.Or else like Peter Collins says “We deny Resurrection by remaining silent on issues that cause pain.” Martin Luther King Jr said it well “Our Lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.” Let Resurrection be evident through our actions of faith. Let us hear Christ say Loud and Clear “Follow Me.” Are you ready to follow this costly commission? May God give us courage to bring Resurrection where the forces of death have conquered. In the wake of the rape of a 5 year old child in Delhi we are burning with anger. But i also see a sense of resignation that is becoming paramount. We cannot stay silent. We cannot just accept the reality as it is. Let us ask ourselves how we plan to respond to this collective pain. May the Holy spirit guide us. Amen.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church