Agape love, Christian community, Communion, Gospel of John, Post-resurrection stories, sacrificial love, Simon Peter, Spirit of the risen Christ, spiritual nourishment, Steve Garnaas-Holmes
When Jesus met the disciples on the beach a week or so after being raised from the dead, he prepared them a breakfast of fish and bread, and in those holy moments they recognized their Lord. As Jesus gives them food for their hungry, tired bodies, he is giving them himself, the bread of life. They are just beginning to understand that whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry. After a long, frustrating night on the water catching nothing, Jesus guides them to let down their nets in a place that produced abundance.
The gospel of John then relates the conversation between Jesus and his most impetuous, risk-prone disciple Peter.
When they finished eating, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?”
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” and Peter replied in the same way.
Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”
When Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved him, it seemed to cut deep into Peter’s sense of identity as a loyal disciple. He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” It was clear that his feelings were hurt.
Jesus once again said, “Feed my sheep.”
Peter may still not fully grasp how life-changing his relationship with the rabbi Jesus the Nazarene is going to be. It’s as though Peter is willing to be on board a train that holds the promise of shifting the world’s power structures, but he isn’t quite convinced that the empty tomb has clinched the deal. Peter’s love is of the brotherly Philios kind and he hasn’t yet come to understand the immensity of Christ’s unconditional Agape love for the world.
The Lord’s challenge to him to feed and take care of those who are within the fold of God’s care – a much larger fold than any of us dare to imagine most days – is a challenge to go beyond the limits of our usual affections. Peter and the other disciples encounter the love of God embodied in their crucified and risen Lord and it calls each of them into deeper expressions of love that hold the power to change the world.
These post-resurrection gospel stories are wonderful antidotes to a faith that is lazy or content. Like Peter, we are being called toward a sacrificial love in which we share with our neighbors the spiritual nourishment we have received from Christ. This may involve inviting persons to worship or other places we experience Christian community. More likely though, it is about the ways we reach out to people through supportive, hands-on forms of self-giving love with no personal return in mind.
In what ways do you and I allow the Spirit of the risen Christ to breathe new life and love into our lives? This is the post-Resurrection question we face in the 21st century.
Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, in his April 8th blog on Unfolding Light writes:
Jesus asks deep, self-giving love of us,
love not for our sake but his.
Sometimes the best we can do
is lightweight friendship.
And in his deep love for us,
Jesus takes whatever we can offer.
And directs that love, whatever it is,
toward the rest of our kin,
for that is where we really love God:
“Feed my sheep.”
Sometimes we discover our love for God
by loving others.
Always Jesus invites us deeper.
Peter may not expect much of himself,
but Jesus promises that he will go on:
“You will be led where you did not choose.”
Pay attention to what tugs at your love,
however weak it may seem.
Let it lead you deeper.
Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson (except where noted)