On this 3rd Sunday of Easter, the assigned lectionary text brings us to a story of Jesus making a third appearance to His disciples after the resurrection. On the two previous occasions, Jesus comes to them by suddenly appearing miraculously behind locked doors. This time Jesus comes to them down by the seashore. After arranging a miracle catch of fish (153), after having caught nothing all night, Jesus cooks breakfast for them. After which Jesus engages Peter in a conversation. Peter of course is the disciple who despite his protest to the contrary, had denied Jesus 3 times. In this conversation, 3 times Jesus ask Peter “Do you love Me?” When Peter assures Jesus that he indeed loves Him, Jesus follows up with the comment “Feed my sheep.”
Over the years I have read many interpretations of why Jesus asked Peter this question 3 times. The theological consensus seems to be that there’s a link Peter having denied knowing Jesus 3 times during His passion before the Crucifixion. The rationale for linking these two events is the assumption is that Peter’s guilt over his denials of Jesus at such a critical moment was still lingering even after Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ two appearances before the disciples behind locked doors. The theory is that Jesus, who had renamed Simon to Peter meaning “Rock” and said “On this Rock I will built my church,” (Matthew 16:18) needed to reassure Peter of his forgiveness in order for Peter to get past his guilt and become the person living the life God intended for him.
I don’t disagree with any of that. I would just simply add that what Jesus came looking to do for Peter back then, Jesus is still looking to do for you and me today. We too deny Jesus when we make choices that do not reflect the life God intends for us. Often our denial of Jesus is seen in our bitterness and resentment of others, our abusive actions toward others and ourselves in ways that are unhealthy for us, and damaging to the well-being of others. And no amount of rationalizing our actions really takes away the guilt of denying Jesus. So Jesus comes looking for us to remind us that only loving God, loving ourselves and neighbors as ourselves, demonstrate that we are living in our forgiveness!
In that conversation between Jesus and Peter, we find yet another reminder that “The Risen Christ is looking for us.” And when Jesus comes looking for us, it is always out of love. And what we see is that love never tries to compound guilt or rub salt in the wounds of shame. Love comes to set us free from the guilt and the shame.
After Peter responds “Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus says to Peter 3 times, “Feed my sheep.” In other words, give them what they need to survive and thrive. It is as if Jesus is saying, “It’s not enough to just love Me; loving Me requires a commitment to demonstrate that love. And the way you do that is by making the loving, caring and compassion for others the cornerstone of your love for Me.”
Join us in worship at Covenant this Sunday. I will be talking more about when “The Risen Christ Is Looking For You.” The scripture text is “John 21:10-25.”