The end of the Gospel of John ends with a story of Jesus reinstating Peter. Peter, remember, had been near Jesus after he was arrested. He was asked three times if he was one of Jesus’ disciples and each time he denied it. Peter realizes his denial and is crushed by it. What is even a bigger blow to Peter is that he doesn’t get the chance to speak with Jesus again before he is crucified. He’s left with this tremendous amount of guilt, he didn’t have the chance to apologize.
The story we're looking at today occurs after Jesus has risen from the dead and it’s the only conversation between Jesus and Peter that we have after Peter’s denial. It occurs after the miraculous catch of fish where the disciples realize that Jesus is alive. John 21:15-19:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’”
What’s great about this story is that Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Remember, Peter had denied Jesus three times earlier in John. Jesus is reinstating Peter by giving him the chance to redeem himself. He’s not trying to make him feel bad but trying to remind Peter of his place as a disciple. Peter not only responds with love but he also stresses Jesus’ knowledge and grasp of the situation. He is saying ‘I love you and I know who you are’.
Another key point comes at the end of this passage. Jesus tells Peter that his love and discipleship will lead him ‘where you do not want to go’ (John 21:18). Previously, Peter had gone where he wanted to go. Now as a reinstated disciple, he is being told that Jesus will lead him to places he does not want to go. Believing in and relying on God can sometimes lead us to places that we do not want to go. This message should ring true for us right now.
Our lives have changed and we may be in a place that we do not like and wish to go. That could be a physical place, like our house, or it could be a spiritual place. Is God leading you down a path that brings him closer to you, even though you’re hesitant? Is he calling you to a deeper relationship with himself even though you feel like you’re not ready for that? At some point in our lives, God is going to call us to go where we may not wish to go. That could be a physical location or it could be relationally with God or someone else. What we need to remember is that even though we don’t want to go there, God is calling us down those uncertain paths. When we choose to follow him we will no longer be going where we want to go, but rather, where he wants us to go. I’m not saying that God wants us all to be in our homes right now, but we all probably have that feeling of ‘I don’t want to be here’. That is the same feeling that Jesus is talking about. He may lead us to places that we get that same feeling. What we have to understand is that, that is part of our journey in relationship with him. It’s not always easy and we may not want to go down certain paths but Jesus is calling us to regardless. He calls us there because he loves us, just like he did with Peter.
Questions for Discussion/Contemplation: