Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Change: being transformed" (John 21:15-25)

1.     What strikes you in this passage? We'll ask some questions referring to various aspects of this text.

     2.     The threefold question (of Jesus) … “Do you love me?”

Ø Comes in response to Peter’s three denials (John 18:17,25-7). Peter’s denials could be forgiven, but it was in Peter’s best interests for Jesus to approach this situation in a way where Peter could forgive himself and thereby move on. This would help Peter move beyond his deflated feelings of disappointment and defeat. Being given the opportunity to express both regret and love three times over, allowed Peter to be fully liberated from his three denials. Proper repentance is about a strategy to move forward … leaving behind the behaviour or attitudes or mistakes that have been problematical, sinful and destructive. Repentance is about change i.e. being transformed … being more like Jesus … being more fully human (in the image of God). So we are repeatedly asked the question: do we love God – do we really love God – do we completely love God?

Ø Peter’s denials were not going to be pushed under the carpet and ignored – they couldn’t be; for eventually the negative impact of these would be bound to rear its ugly head at some point. No one can live properly in denial. What was required for Peter was a facing up to his mistakes, transforming forgiveness, and a way of leaving them behind and moving forward. Jesus didn’t throw these denials back into Peter’s face … Jesus was much more creative and pastoral than that. Jesus just required three ever-increasingly-sincere statements of commitment (again for Peter’s benefit, but also for the benefit of the Kingdom of God and the mission of the Church to come). If the world needs the church {can we say yes to this}, then what the church needs is repentant liberated growing people. The Body of Christ on earth needs to be healthy.

Ø But let us feel the emotion of the moment and the love for Peter that lies behind Jesus’ questioning. First and foremost, there is a desperate desire in Jesus for Peter to move on from past mistakes toward future possibilities.

     3.     Who or what are the “these” (v.15)?

Ø ‘Do you love me more than these things/people?’, e.g. the boats and the nets – the tools of the fishing business – representative of any distraction or adverse attraction; his friends / the other disciples
Ø Or, ‘Do you love me more than these people love me?’
Ø Ultimately, I think this is about not limiting our love of Jesus in any way, but rather allowing this love for Jesus to reach its height. Does our love for Jesus supersede everything else?

     4.     The threefold response (of Peter) … “Yes, Lord …”

Ø I reckon this was an emotional time for Peter. It can be hard to say that you love someone like this, especially when you feel that you have let them down. And then it could be that frustration built in Peter when the question was asked the second time, let alone the third. But then when Peter came to terms with the need for the multiple questioning, and understood the source of his frustration, guilt and shame, then he would be more ready to really mean what he was saying. Jesus was deliberately (for Peter’s own benefit) taking him to the edge.

Ø When Jesus asked Peter the third time, we read that Peter was “hurt”. This is because he had now been fully confronted with the depth of his inner turmoil; but at the same time, this also meant that he could understand the full depth of his need. Peter states that he knows that Jesus knows him entirely (v.17b … “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”) – Jesus truly knows all his motivations, faults and capacities; and yes, Peter does love Jesus (more than anything and everything else), and he is sincerely sorry that he let Jesus down. Peter will no longer be defined by his denials, but rather as a forgiven person who has learned and grown much out of adversity.

Ø How hard is it for us to say publicly that we love Jesus? What does it take?? Humility, courage, faith, actual love???
Ø How do we love Jesus more? Three suggestions: embrace Jesus in the Gospels; embrace Jesus in (collective) worship; embrace Jesus in our everyday thoughts – where do we find Jesus in this situation?

     5.     The threefold call (from Jesus) … “Feed my sheep”

Ø A repentant and life-changing response to Jesus leads not just to forgiveness and salvation, but also to a call to exercise ministry … a ministry in Jesus’ name … a ministry to other people. We were designed to be socially interactive people, who would care for one another. Those of us who have been able to experience grace and connect with God, have a special call to share that grace with others who live without such an appreciation of this grace. Love for God naturally leads to love for neighbour. This is about opening up possibilities of faith in others. So, if anyone is resisting Jesus or refusing to change where clearly necessary, this is diminishing ministry to others.

Ø Jesus is the ‘great shepherd of the sheep’. Jesus had earlier said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). So Jesus' disciples, then and now, are to “feed” and “tend” to the lambs and sheep (the youngest and the oldest, and all in between). To “feed” is to provide nourishment – things that will allow for or promote growth (which would include the teachings and disciplines required to grow). To “tend” is to look after, to care for, to nurture and encourage. The shepherd’s main responsibilities were to make sure their sheep were kept safe and had something to eat – that they were in a ‘good pasture’. In all this, our love for God will be proven (and solidified) through our love for others.

Ø Jesus takes this idea of shepherding just about as far as you could! He had said previously, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Who are Jesus’ sheep, we wonder??? Jesus goes on, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14-16). Jesus sees his herd in a very inclusive way … all people are potentially his children – if they just might hear his voice … if they just might be fed and tended!

     6.     From self-control to Spirit-control (v.18)

Ø Once we were able “to go wherever we wished” (v.18a), now we follow Jesus. Or at least this is our invitation! As we read the gospel, whichever one, we are invited to follow Jesus. We read what Jesus said and taught, and how he interacted with people. We can even place ourselves into the incidents where Jesus is involved, and experience what Jesus wants to do for us (& us in service of him). Then, as we receive a ministry from Jesus, we are invited to follow Jesus. Tough notion!?! I’m challenged by this notion every single day. This may even “take us where we do not wish to go” (v.18b) – places that otherwise we would not choose. [Mark 8:34 – “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. Tough notion indeed … for the “cross” is the way of suffering!]

Ø Well even in our ongoing humanness, following Jesus has been made possible. How? Through the forgiveness gained at the foot of the cross, and the new life available in identifying with Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus says, “Do you love me (more than these)”, we can reply in the affirmative. [Mark 8:35 – “For those who want to save their life will lose it … those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”.]

Ø This is a movement from ‘I am God’ towards ‘God is God’. Even when Peter made that remarkable statement concerning the identity of Jesus … “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God” (Mark 8:29), he quickly tried to define what this would mean according to his own agenda {Peter could not possibly accept that this would mean that Jesus would die}. How did Jesus respond to this?? “Get behind me, Satan … for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33) – for even though Peter said the right words, he was still (maybe inadvertently) preferring to define Jesus’ ministry through his own lens. Then, later, when the going got tough, when Jesus had been arrested and was on trial, when it was suggested on three separate occasions that Peter was a friend of this Jesus, he denied even knowing Jesus – for fear of what would happen to him. Fear comes out of a lack of faith , or should we say, fear is the result of an unwillingness or inability to apply faith. This despite previous confident predictions that Peter would lay down his life if necessary for Jesus (John 13:37). {Before being too critical, we might wonder what we would have done in Peter’s situation?}

Ø Later, despite experiencing the resurrected Jesus, an uncertain and guilt-ridden Peter went back to fishing {and interestingly the other disciples followed him} (John 21:3). Peter had a sense of failure in letting Jesus down. The cock had crowed and Peter was shattered (John 18:27). Then we have this encounter! What a difference Jesus would make here. Peter was not fully back on track yet, but this interaction would certainly prepare the way for Peter recapturing his leadership {in the way Jesus would see it). Ultimately a willing Peter, did follow Jesus, getting past all his fear, and was empowered by the Holy Spirit for serious mission. In sharing the good news of Jesus in various ways, Peter indeed came to feed the sheep and care for the lambs.

     7.     Following Jesus

Ø The sense of the Greek text here (v.19b) is continuing action – “Follow me and keep on following me”. Peter had responded to this call three years earlier (John 1:42, Luke 5:11), but still needed to respond to this same call! Where once, because of our uncertainty, we tended to withdraw, now we will be ready to engage.

Ø Verses 21-22 have a challenge for us! Being transformed – feeding and tending – will all involve keeping a keen focus on God; rather than looking around assessing what God might be doing for others. This is where we concern ourselves first with our own backyard. There should be no looking over fences to gauge comparisons. Peter was concerned that John might get a better deal than he was. It might be that Peter’s journey would be harder than others. Someone else might be getting what he won’t be getting. Someone else might be getting something better. John gets all the advantages, doesn’t he, like sitting next to Jesus at the last supper! “Lord, what about him” (v.21)? Where would such thinking get Peter? And besides, does Peter have enough information to ever be able to judge such things. This could only be a distraction. ‘No’, says Jesus, what have I said to you, just “follow me”!

Ø Our joint ministry of feeding and tending is never to have jealous or competitive or individualistic elements, but rather everything needs to be done in a cohesive and harmonious way. At the same time, our joint ministry should not be timid nor hesitant, but rather faith-filled and confident. Also, following and loving Jesus means that we will be more gentle, more patient, more teachable, more kind, more forgiving, more peace-loving, more prone to act against any injustice we encounter.

Ø Jesus transformed Peter’s life because he loved him so much (and this never wavered despite Peter’s fluctuations). But Jesus also persisted with Peter, because he wanted Peter to contribute to transforming other people’s life situations. This is what it means to “follow Jesus and keep on following Jesus”.

Ø We all have histories, and we all have need. We all have stuff happening right now. When Jesus asks, how will we answer the question, “Do you love me more than these”? Will we let Jesus have his way with us?

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