Jesus had always recognized Simon son of John as someone with a lot of potential. He had so much potential that early on Jesus nicknamed him Peter, Cephas in Aramaic or Petros in Greek. The name means “Rock,” so probably a good English translation would be Rocky. Now Rocky seems to have a had a personality to match his new name. He was strong willed and a good leader. He was courageous; and if you remember when Jesus walked on water, the Gospel of Matthew tells us how Rocky was brave enough to get out of the boat and actually walked on water for a little while before sinking. Peter was also the first who proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, which is when Jesus first told him of his future leadership. But Peter was also very sure of himself. Maybe he saw the same good qualities Jesus saw in him, and maybe it went to his head. The disciples seemed to have argued a lot about which one of them was the greatest, and I’m sure Peter was in on these conversations. And when Jesus told the disciples how they would all scatter, Peter vehemently told Jesus “Even if everyone else falls away, I will never desert you!”
Well as we know, the night Jesus was arrested Peter followed them to the high priest’s courtyard. Then he denied Jesus three times. The disciple who thought he was the strongest of them all, had utterly failed.
So here we are, perhaps a few weeks after Easter Sunday, the text doesn’t tell us how long it’s been. The disciples are sticking together but don’t really know what to do next. So basically they go back to their day jobs and do the work they know best: fishing. After a night without a single fish, Jesus appears on the lakeshore in the morning and helps them with a miraculous catch. After eating breakfast Jesus has a conversation with Peter. First he asks him, “Do you love me more than these other disciples do?” Recent events seem to have humbled Peter. There was a time when he might’ve said he loved and respected Jesus more than anybody ever. But he doesn’t know the hearts of the other disciples; what he does know however is that he does love Jesus.
And so, where Peter had once denied his discipleship three times, here he reaffirms it by saying three times that he does love Jesus. And I think we see here the key to real discipleship: love of Jesus Christ. That love will lead us to do tons of different things, but love for Jesus Christ is what discipleship is all about. And even if you feel that love more strongly sometimes than others, growing in that relationship is what being a disciple means.
And what is Peter supposed to do in response to that love, Jesus says: feed my sheep. Three times he is told this. That’s what a disciple does. Sheep feeding is Peter’s calling now. We all have different callings, we all respond to Christ’s love in different ways. But we’re all inspired by that love to do some kind of sheep feeding.
As disciples we can all do something to feed Christ’s sheep. It’s not always literal feeding, though it definitely includes that at times. Sheep feeding is whatever we do to manifest God’s love in the world. We can manifest God’s love for the world by serving the poor or protecting the vulnerable. We can manifest God’s love for the world by facilitating healing—mental, emotional, or physical. We can manifest God’s love for the world by telling people about God’s grace and love and the amazing spiritual healing and transformation found in Christ. Whatever it is that our calling may be, we’re all called to some kind of sheep feeding—some way of manifesting God’s love in the world. As we grow as disciples, we must discern what kind of sheep feeding God is calling us to do.
And remember what Jesus told Peter: that he may be used to doing his own thing but following Christ may mean be directed where he does not want to go. And that, as John tells us, this will end in his martyrdom.
So for Peter, following Jesus will mean suffering. But this suffering is the way Jesus himself walked—and it seems to be what happens to those who follow God’s path in this broken world. This is the opposite of the “Prosperity Gospel” spoken about by some in modern American Christianity that says if you love Jesus God’ll make you rich. No, Jesus tells his disciples to expect suffering. He says if you serve God you’ll probably end up bearing a cross. A life of discipleship doesn’t promise us the good life. A life of discipleship involves sacrifice for others and dying to ourself. That’s what Jesus is preparing Peter for and that’s what disciples today should be ready for as well.
When people of God of any faith are persecuted: whether it’s Muslims in New Zealand, Jews in Pittsburg or California, or Christians in Sri Lanka on Easter morning—we stand with them in their grief, encouraging their discipleship, and vow to make the world a better place, replacing hatred with love, and following our call to feed God’s sheep in whatever way we can.
And no matter what happens to us, we know that Jesus Christ has walked the road before us and that Jesus Christ will be with us on our way. And the good news is that even if we’ve failed at it before, Jesus is constantly calling us to follow him. No matter how many times we think we’ve failed to live up to our calling of discipleship, Jesus will always meet us on the lakeshore and give us forgiveness, strength, and hope.
We are extraordinarily loved by God. And even if we falter at our calling, Jesus is there to reinstate us and encourage us onward. And this powerful love itself will give us strength and actually change us. Like a baby whose experience of unconditional love and acceptance from a parent or caregiver enables the child to grow up to love itself and others, so God’s love and acceptance transforms us to change and grow into a reflection of Christ. Being so loved by God is transformative in itself. It is this love and acceptance that transformed Peter, and it is what we get to experience too as we grow into disciples of Christ who learn the business of sheep feeding.
And so I hope when you hear Peter’s story you’ll think of whatever it is you are called to do. Whatever type of sheep feeding God wants from you. God is inspiring you to do it. And even if you fail at it, like Peter did at first, Jesus comes to you by the lakeshore offering forgiveness, encouragement, and love—and promising to be with you as you spend your life following him.
Hey guys. Have you ever denied you know somebody? Like if you’re walking around Disney World and your dad’s got on short shorts, a fanny pack, and a bright neon hat! You’re like “I don’t want people thinking I’m related to this guy.” Maybe you’ve been embarrassed by your parents or siblings sometime?
Or maybe on a more serious note, you’ve acted like you don’t know a friend at school if they were getting picked on? Maybe you were afraid you’d get made fun of too for knowing them. Has anyone ever done that?
Well Jesus’ friend Peter said he didn’t know Jesus. The night Jesus was arrested, Peter followed to see what would happen. But then when people asked Peter if he knew Jesus he said he didn’t know him. Then Jesus was killed. But three days later, as we know, Jesus rose from the dead. And now—in the Bible reading today—Jesus has a conversation with Peter. How do you think that went?
Well Jesus forgave Peter, and told Peter he was still a disciple. And Peter spent the rest of his life leading the early church and helping people to understand God’s love for them. So thank God Jesus gave Peter a second chance. And thank God we have second chances to love the people God puts in our lives.