How wonderful it is to celebrate the greatest act of grace the world has ever known—the death and Resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus, at Easter. All across the territory, there were evangelistic campaigns, dramas, Easter egg hunts and other wonderful events. But what now? Shouldn’t that celebration mean more than just a week of hard, but fulfilling, work?
As I read about the events immediately following Jesus’ death and Resurrection in John’s Gospel, I see a tremendous responsibility being entrusted to his followers. In John 21, Jesus spent time with his disciples before he ascended into heaven. He met them on the beach after they had been fishing all night.
It’s interesting that these disciples returned to their old vocation so soon after Jesus was crucified. On numerous occasions, Jesus had told Peter that he was the rock upon which he would build his church. The disciples had envisioned a very different ending to their time with Jesus, so I imagine they were at a loss after his death. Even though they were witnesses to the Resurrection, had seen Jesus alive, they still seemed unsure about what the future might hold. Jesus had told them he would send the Holy Spirit, who would imbue them with power from on high. Yet here they were, fishing again.
Somehow, though, their hearts weren’t in it. They didn’t catch anything until Jesus showed up and told them to throw their net on the other side of the boat. Although they didn’t recognize him, they took his advice. Soon, their net was too full to haul into the boat.
When he realized who it was, Peter jumped off the boat and started swimming to shore, where Jesus was preparing breakfast over a fire on the beach. I wonder if he had cooked for them before. Perhaps. They seemed perfectly comfortable sitting down to eat together that morning.
Of course, as usual, Jesus had a lesson to teach them. When they finished breakfast, he turned to Peter, his “rock,” and asked him: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). I wish we had a video of that moment so we would know for sure what he meant by “these.” But I suppose we can infer that he was referring to their return to fishing as a livelihood, rather than getting on with the real work to which he had called them.
Whatever his gesture was, Peter was quick to respond, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” The Master’s reply was as puzzling as the rest of the morning had been. “Feed my lambs,” he said. Twice more, Jesus posed the question, Peter answered and Jesus told him to feed his sheep. Then Jesus repeated a command he had given Peter and the rest of the disciples at the very beginning: “Follow me.”
I think John’s Gospel records this incident because it’s important not only to tell the story of the disciples and Jesus, but also because it speaks to Christians of all times. It’s very easy to get discouraged and want to go back to something familiar and comfortable. But Jesus poses us this question: “Do you love me more than these?” Do we love him enough to venture out of our comfort zone and go into all the world making disciples? Do we love him enough to follow wherever he leads?
I suppose that, for Peter, this question was the wake-up call that brought him back to his true calling. When next we read about him, in the Book of Acts, he has assumed leadership of the group of disciples. His leadership is blessed by the Holy Spirit such that the church grows and reaches around the globe and across the centuries.
May we each hear that question, “Do you love me more than these?” and may we respond by following him more closely and serving him more faithfully. Perhaps our prayer could be, in the words of a song from the musical Godspell, “To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
Commissioner Susan McMillan is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory.