When Jesus Asks – What Will You Say?
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 4/14/2013
Based on John 21:1-19
This past week Paul and I attended a retreat with other UCC pastors and their spouses. The retreat focused on the basic Five Theological Worlds which are found in any congregation. This retreat was lead by our very talented David Popham, who is the Associate Conference Minister for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ.
We each operate within all five of these worlds, with several of these worlds being more dominate than the others. What David was sharing with us in part, was how each of us through these various lens approach life. For example, a World One person views themselves from a position of “Orphan or Pilgrim” and desires “Belonging”, a World Two person see’s the injustice and is a “Warrior”, one who is co-creating to bring “justice”, a World Three person sees themselves as an “Outcast” and works toward “Fulfillment”, a World Four dominate person see’s themselves through “condemnation” and restoration comes through “Forgiveness” (I’ve been washed with the blood of the lamb language), the Fifth World personality experiences life as a “Refugee or Victimization” and “Endures” life, for nothing will ever really change.
These worlds operate throughout our Biblical stories as well. For example, in the Wednesday night book study of “The Last Week” by Marcus Borg and John Crossan, Marks Gospel is viewed from a World Two perspective, where Jesus’ mission was that of a “warrior” recognizing the injustice of the Domination System that the Roman Empire imposed upon Judea and His challenging that system and of His work toward instituting “just distribution” of resources to all people.
As I look at this morning’s story of Jesus’ third appearance, I see several theological worlds being presented. The story being’s with seven of the disciples having returned to the Sea of Galilee, and Peter saying, “I’m going fishing.” Most of the seven disciples mentioned in this story had the previous occupation as fishermen. The implication is that now that their leader Jesus is dead and the movement has died with Jesus, they see that nothing really changed, so they decide to go back to their previous lives. This is a World 5 response, after all that Jesus has done, after his death, nothing has changed and the world will continue to be following the path of injustice acts, so why bother, we will just go back doing what we know best, fishing. And yet, most of the stories in the Gospels that have the disciples fishing say that they never caught any fish until Jesus tells them where to cast out their nets. The implication is that their earlier professions of being fishermen were non-productive, and only by following Jesus’ instructions were they able to catch fish. I wonder how often we feel like we are just spinning our wheels in life – thinking that nothing will really ever change?
The second part of this story is one of the more familiar encounters of John’s Gospel, that of Jesus asking Peter, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” The context of this story finds its roots in earlier interactions between Peter and Jesus, more specifically focusing around those conversations where Jesus was trying to tell his disciples about his upcoming death. When Jesus was telling his disciples the first time of his pending arrest and death, Peter is reported to have rebuked Jesus for having such thoughts, Jesus responded by saying, “Get behind me Satan, for your heart is not of the Kingdom of God.” At the last supper, Jesus once again was telling his disciples about his upcoming arrest and death and how the disciples would dessert Jesus in his hour of need. Peter again boldly spoke out saying, “Even if the others dessert him, he would never leave Jesus’ side.” “Peter” Jesus responses “you will deny me three times before the rooster crows.” Now Jesus is once again preparing these men about His returning to God and inviting them to continue the fight.
As I read this story, I see Jesus addressing Peter through a World 4. Peter has stated his position to Jesus several times about how he would never fail Jesus and would stand by his side. After the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter is now confronted with the failure of his integrity. He had failed his friend, not just from physical harm, but worse, denying ever knowing Jesus. This was the disciple when asked by Jesus ‘who do you say that I am?’ stated without any hesitation that Jesus was the Messiah! It’s possible that for Peter, returning to his prior life as a fisherman was the only option, for he had failed as a disciple and as a friend. Out of that failure, Peter was totally isolated from Jesus because he, Peter, had turned his back when his help was most needed. How often have you found yourself as a betrayer – wanting that relationship to continue, but it cannot because of the mess you had made of it?
When we are living in a World 4, the only way in which we can be redeemed is through confession and the undeserved forgiveness that comes from God. “Peter, do you love me” asks Jesus. A second time, “Peter, do you love me?” A third time Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter responds by saying “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” With each affirmation by Peter that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter the task to “Feed and tend His sheep.” This is a restoration of the relationship between Peter and Jesus, for Jesus has the power to forgive.
Then at the end of this story Jesus gives the invitation to Peter, “Follow me.” In this invitation the story has come full circle. Peter and the disciples, even though they had seen Jesus and had been given “peace” on the evening of the resurrection, and eight days later again had spent time with Jesus, seem to be unable to move forward with their lives. On this third appearance, Jesus invites them to eat with him once again and during this time, after allowing Peter the opportunity to once again “confess” his love to Jesus, extends the invitation once again to “follow” Him. Restoration is now complete.
This story speaks to each of us, no matter what world we operate out of, whether it is: alienation to belonging, or injustice to justice, or death to life, or condemnation to pardon, or duplicity to integrity, we want to connection with God and the physical world in which we live in. As the body of Christ we are asked daily “Do you love me?” That question can be heard and answered in differing ways depending on which lens of the Five Theological Worlds you operate in. No one world has the “better” answer to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. The way of resolution to that question is found in our willingness to “participate” with Christ in “feeding and tending” through the integrity of our theological world. I invite you this week to listen to the question posed to Peter, “Do you love me” and how is “feed my sheep” enacted through your life? Amen