When we don’t know what else to do, we‘ll come up with something. Two post-resurrection visits from Jesus, and Peter and the boys are still clueless. He may have gone from death back to life, but he’s not alive like before. He’s not hanging out with them – they’re lost. They don’t know what to do. Peter fills in the gap – “I’m going fishing” and the rest say, “Me, too,” reverting to their pre-Jesus days. So, if you are a bit confused about Easter, unsure what’s going on, don’t feel alone. Just don’t fill your time by going fishing – not yet. All night they throw nets, pull them in, come up empty. What do we do when we feel lost, adrift, uncertain? We fill the space. We do something, even if it’s wrong.
As dawn breaks, a figure on the shore calls, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” “No, sir, we don’t.” “Throw your net on the other side.” Why not, nothing is working so far. They do – and miraculously, they can hardly pull in the nets for all the fish. The beloved disciple cries out, “It’s the Lord!” Like at the empty tomb, he’s first to recognize something more is going on here. This time Peter, in comical fashion, fishing in the buff, pulls on some clothes, (Praise God!) then jumps in the water and wades ashore. Why John had to include this detail in the gospel is beyond me – too much information. Besides, I’ve never seen Peter standing up in the fishing boat staged in a church play.
When the others get ashore, Jesus has breakfast waiting – fish and loaves, breaking bread, Jesus as host…hmm, let that image linger. The Last Supper is not Jesus’ last meal with his followers after all, then or now. Jesus’ miraculous fish and loaves buffet for thousands – with more than enough for all – Jesus, the bread of life, beyond death now, abundantly available forevermore, to all who seek, who merely ask – Jesus, who prepares the meal we receive at this table.
Jesus takes Peter aside, asks, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord you know I do.” By the third time Jesus asks, Peter’s feelings hurt. “You know everything. You know I love you.” Jesus’ response each time: “Feed; tend; feed my sheep.” Three times – yes, three times Peter denies Jesus. Does Jesus want Peter to know he’s still on the team – forgiven and restored – maybe? Or perhaps being forgiven and restored is just the beginning.
A lot of people sign up for Jesus’ benefits without reading the fine print. In worship, if we are attentive, we hear Jesus ask, “Do you love me?” At his table Jesus the host asks, “Do you love me?” When we look into the faces of those unlike us, those who differ with us, those who are enemies, those we’ve stopped speaking to – Jesus stares back and asks, “Do you love me?” “Feed, tend my sheep,” which means love that person as I love you. Saying “I believe,” is not enough. Jesus wants obedience, to follow him, mean it – to love as he loves – tending and feeding his flock, which is everyone.
Jesus calls us beyond the comfort of our pews. He sends us out into the world, not to wear people down, or threaten and scare them into heaven, but love them into the Father. Only love will get them there. Love doesn’t wait for sheep to show up. Love proactively goes out, seeks, forgives, embraces others, expects nothing in return, even suffers and dies to reveal God’s heart for us all. “Do you love me? Do something so others will know.” Jesus fulfills another promise made earlier: “Those who have my commandments, keep them, and show love to me. Those who love me are loved by my Father – and I will love you and reveal myself to you.” Is this true? Try and see – love others as Jesus loves you. That’s harder than it sounds, if we mean it.
God loves enough to give us space to choose Him. God doesn’t force us. It’s personal, and each must answer. Coming to church, saying the right things, telling others we follow Jesus – doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’ll know by our love that we love Jesus, and Jesus loves them. We can say we love, yet if we judge others harshly, draw a line to exclude others from God’s love – we are more like obstacles than followers.
When we don’t know what to do, we do something. That’s when Jesus is most likely to show up – to feed us with God’s love and new life, and ask, “Do you love me? Then follow me – feed and tend my sheep; love the flock – everyone with the love I have for you, my child.” For Peter, that meant the ultimate – requiring his life. I don’t know what Jesus may ask of you or me, but I do know he asks us to love with the love we see in God – you know, when God returns in a resurrected Jesus, and this time He really wants us to know we are loved – even those who opposed and killed His child.
John’s Epilogue ends just as his gospel begins. God’s light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. Light overcomes our hungers, our failures, denials, even our ignorance, and indifference. Jesus never gives up on any of us. “Do you love me?” Well if you do, then no way can darkness overcome. Love, seek, tend and feed lost sheep, found sheep, all Jesus’ flock. Darkness scatters when the light of divine love shines through us. “Do you love me?” Now, do we know what to do – what Jesus asks us to do?