Greetings, JCUMC Family,
This week hasn’t been the best week of quarantine for me. Many of you know that I have migraines from time to time and this was one of those weeks. While I am feeling much better, the weather isn’t cooperating for me to film my devotion this week. So, instead of a video, I’m writing my thoughts. Imagine me sitting by the pond in my neighborhood, pictured above, as I share my devotion.
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the last part of the Gospel of John the past few weeks. I have thought about Easter, the disciples gathered in fear, and then doubting Thomas. This week, I find myself thinking about the 21st chapter of John. My paraphrase of the story, which I share with our youth from time to time, goes like this. Jesus is on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee when he sees his disciples out on the water trying to fish. In some ways, the disciples had returned to what they knew before they followed Jesus. He calls to them asking, “ have you not caught anything?” They yell back, “no.” Jesus then tells his disciples to try casting their nets on the other side. As soon as they swap sides, the disciples find their nets filled with fish, more than they could haul. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved, what a great description to give yourself by the way, turns and says, “It is the Lord.”
When the disciples return to shore, they find Jesus, who was already cooking some fish on a fire. He asks them to bring some of the fish they had caught so they could share in breakfast together. It is here, just after breakfast, or the original fish fry of the church as I sometimes like to call it, that Jesus and Peter have a conversation. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs. Jesus asks a second time, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter responds again, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus responds, “tend my sheep.” Jesus asks Peter a third time, “do you love me?” At this point, Scripture tells us that Peter feels hurt. In our English translations, it is the same question asked three times. In my sister’s home, when a question gets asked more than twice, and sometimes more than once, the answer is sometimes “asked and answered.” So, in addition to feeling hurt, I envision a slightly sassy, somewhat annoyed Peter who responds a third time. Peter says, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus responds with, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus continues, but this is where I am going to end my paraphrase. In reflecting on these verses, which are John 21:1-19 if you would like to read the Scripture itself, a number of things stand out to me. This is the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. On the shoreline, Jesus offers his disciples encouragement and abundance as they cast their nets to the other side. When they arrive, Jesus has already started breakfast so that they could share in a meal together once more. There are several accounts of Scripture in which Jesus’ ministry involved food or a meal and this is one more.
Then, there is this exchange between Jesus and Peter. As I shared, in English the same question is asked: “Peter, do you love me?” However, in the Greek translation the question is actually three different questions. The word love is translated as philia, eros, and agape. Philia is brotherly love, like the city of Philadelphia. Eros, which is often translated as romantic love, can be seen as a deep connection with another, beyond like a brother. Agape love is the love of God for us, for all, and us for God and each other. The center room on the third floor is called the Agape Room. When we enter that space, especially when we gather for worship, my prayer is that you feel that love, the agape love of God. In these days when we cannot gather, my prayer is that you still experience the agape love of God and show love to others. Though, I know it may be harder to feel the presence and love of God among us right now. While this may be the case, I still believe that God is ever-present and loving without end. My prayer is that you feel that way too, or at least catch glimpses of it.
Lastly, I think about the responses Jesus gave Peter after he says, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs, tend to his sheep, and feed his sheep. Many are familiar with the Great Commission at the end of Matthew. At the end of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). In many ways, this ending to the Gospel of John is a different kind of commissioning. Earlier in the Gospel of John is the command to love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34). Jesus also shares that they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another (John 13:35). It is fitting, then, that this commissioning is one instructing the disciples to love, to care for one another, and tend beyond their flock as well.
I’ll close with this. In these days in which we continue to find ourselves socially distant from one another, how are we continuing to care for Jesus’ flock? We have seen continued giving to the Helping Hands Fund, which provides financial assistance to local agencies who are still striving to meet the needs of others during this time. We have seen people making masks to provide to people in the medical field, family, friends, and maybe even strangers they encounter. We have found ways of staying connected with one another in prayer, in fellowship and conversation, in discipleship, and in worship. We have found ways to express our concern and prayer for those who are experiencing grief, loss, and heartbreak. In my opinion, I feel that we have found that, while we cannot gather, we are still the church. We are still the body of Christ. We are still living into God’s call and commission to love and tend to the flock. My prayer is that we continue to live into this faithful response.
May the Grace and Peace of God be with you and yours this week.