I have a Dream!

John 21:1-19

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simonson of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simonson of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.

I have a dream!

When I finally meet our Lord face to face, I would love him to say, ‘come and have breakfast,’ whilst the sun is beginning to  riseover the Sea of Galilee. and the gulls are flying around overhead,and there is a charcoal fire on the beach, the beautiful aroma of freshly baked bread and  fresh fish already cooking on the fire. 

Breakfast cooked by Jesus as the sun rises, offering hope and a new beginning for those who love him. 

The joy of a new beginning with  Jesus, for ever -the disciplescrucified and risen Lord and friend. That’s what the 7 disciples were offered that morning on the beach. 

For Simon Peter, after breakfast, the new beginning needed to be properly established. The elephant in the room needed to be addressed. Peter had denied he even knew his friend and Lord 3 times and Jesus knew it and Peter knew that Jesus knew it. 

‘Simon, son of John,’ he said, ‘do you love me more than these?’

Simon, son of John, Jesus didn’t call him Peter. In fact the Lord echoes precisely his calling of Peter in John 1: 42 ‘ Andrewbrought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said,’ You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’  Peter, the rock- the rock on which Jesus would build his church.

However, after Simon Peter’s denial of Jesus he certainly hadn’t lived up to that name and they both knew it. There was another gentle reminder of Simon Peter’s failure, the charcoal fire. The last time Simon Peter had stood beside a charcoal fire near Jesus, it had been in the courtyard of the high priest and as he warmed himself he was challenged and denied his Lord a second and a third time and then the cock crowed. This was another painful reminder of his failure.

‘Simon son of John,’ Jesus asked, ‘do you love me more than these?’

It’s an incredibly significant conversation which we all know so well, but theologians differ enormously on how it should be read, how it should be interpreted.

I have read this passage so, so many times but as I read it afresh this week I suddenly thought, ‘who or what are these?  Who or what was Jesus pointing to at the time?

I had not noticed any ambiguity before, but the commentaries have.

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these’-  morethan these other apostles love me?

Well, that was tough. John is close by and Peter knew that John had not denied he knew Jesus, in fact he had stood by the cross with Jesus’ Mother, and had watched him die.

Or it may mean: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than you love (and value the companionship) of the other disciples?’ That’s also possible and maybe an easier question to answer.

The third possibility is ‘Do you love me more than these?  Jesus asks whilst pointing to the nets, the boat, the fish. This was his original way of life, his source of income, his original means of caring  for his family. Peter had gone back to his fishing business, not very successfully, but he had spent the night out on the water, fishing. Jesus again asks him are you still prepared to abandon everything to follow me, wherever I ask you to go?

I find the third interpretation most helpful, but you can take your pick.

That’s the first ambiguity. 

The next point, that commentators in the past have majored on,is what is usually lost in translation from the Greek to the English.But, we have to bear in mind the original conversation would have been in Aramaic not Greek.

‘Simon son of John, do you love me’…’Yes Lord you know I love you.’ 2 different words are used for love in this sentence in theGreek.

‘Simon son of John do you love me (agapao) more than these,’and Peter replies, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love (philo) you.’

Agape, as we know is the word that Christians adopted to describe the unconditional love of God. The ‘love’ in John 3:16- For God so loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. It’s that level of love. Similarly the word is used in Jesus’ words: A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you.

Peter’s reply is the word philo (as In Philadelphia) brotherly love or friendship, a commitment to relationship, but maybe not unconditional?

Theologian Tom Wright argues that the difference in the words used is not as important as the fact the question was asked 3 times, echoing Peter’s threefold denial and on each occasion the question is answered and Peter is given a new commission- feed my lambs and so on.

However, Tom Wright has also offered another translation of the passage, in his New Testament for Everyone, which does show a difference  and highlights the fact on the third occasion Jesus echoes Peter in using the word philo rather than agape….and I really like this interpretation of the conversation:

‘Simon, son of John,’ he said, ‘do you love me more than these?’

‘Yes, Master,’ he said. ‘You know I’m your friend.’

‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘feed my lambs.’

16 ‘Simon, son of John,’ said Jesus again, for a second time, ‘do you love me?’

‘Yes, Master,’ he said. ‘You know I’m your friend.’

‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘look after my sheep.’

17 ‘Simon, son of John,’ said Jesus a third time, ‘are you my friend?’

Peter was upset that on this third time Jesus asked, ‘Are you my friend?’

‘Master,’ he said, ‘you know everything! You know I’m your friend!’

‘Well, then,’ said Jesus, ‘feed my sheep

Jesus asked Peter on the third occasion, ‘are you my friend.’ It helps me to understand why Peter got upset. I think I’d have been upset too, maybe hearing, ‘are you sure you’re my friend? ‘Master you know everything! You know I’m your friend.’

Jesus never gives up on us. This story tells us that- he didn’t give up on Peter, He reinstated him and Peter became the rock on which Jesus built his church. Peter knew Jesus as his friend and remained his faithful friend until he too was crucified. 

Jesus never gives up on us. We let him down and when we sincerely confess  our sins he reinstates us and there’s a new beginning and a new purpose.

Can you say ‘yes lord you know I’m your friend or do you wonder, maybe the relationship could be better? And consider we would have greater joy and peace if we spent more time just chatting to Jesus in prayer? 

In the words of the hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.


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