Our class was asked by our professor to consider the influence the Bible has had on our lives/not, and to identify ways our social location and disposition towards the Bible affects the meaning we derive from a favorite Biblical text. Hmmm…
Because my family has always been religious, the bible has been the idealized authority in my young world, which I have carried with me into adult life. It has been both a sustaining and challenging source which I have made the core document that has shaped my thoughts about the Divine.
My favorite Bible passage is John 21:15-17 AMPC (check it out!). For me, the essential message is that Peter was welcomed into an experience with his friend that probably changed his view of himself more than it changed his view of his friend, Jesus. I feel Peter’s discomfort when I read the text. The story picks up post-resurrection. Jesus has been through the event Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday – he got up, the stone was rolled away.
What makes this pericope of scripture so intriguing is that Jesus comes to the beach to chill with his friends. He gets there, asks a question, hollers out some good advice, they follow it and get results, and then one of them recognizes who he is. Peter is the first one to get out of the boat to greet him, which gives me a chuckle because in the previous chapter, Peter was left in the proverbial dust when Jesus’ self-proclaimed bestie (yes, I am using creative license here) beats him to the tomb but does not enter. Hmmm… Peter is the one who enters and notices what is described in the narrative as the linen cloths being in one place and the cloth that would have been wrapped around his head being in another. I wonder if this is written in such a way to reflect that the one who was wrapped in these different pieces of cloth maybe took the most burdensome portion off first, moved around, then took the other off, which is why it is placed differently. I would think that if someone was to have come in and stole the body as was alleged in another place, they would have taken it wrapped and all…but that isn’t how the story goes. Is this when Peter’s hope is renewed that his friend really isn’t dead? After this, the story reads that they went home. They went home hope-filled.
Now, back to our main text… Peter and Jesus seem to share a private moment wherein Jesus asks Peter three times, “…do you love me?” I can only speculate what Peter’s experience was. Peter had already denied Jesus “thrice” and now, he is sitting with his favorite person on the beach, with a group of people he probably loved but didn’t always like (just a guess), eating and being asked questions that he probably doesn’t want to answer (talk about vulnerability!). I would not want to be Peter. No. I would rather not share my feelings, but I do like sharing my thoughts. I would rather not be asked anything by the person I feel I just totally failed. I would feel embarrassed, hurt, and much more apt to listen than talk! Boom ~ maybe that’s the point of experiencing intimate friendship. People who help us feel our feelings in safe ways are the ones we learn to trust.
Jesus actually asks Peter two different questions within the context of the three (the directives he gives following each of the three questions will be for another blog). It reads as follows:
15 When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these [others do—with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father]?
16 Again He said to him the second time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father]?
17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]?
One of the reasons Jesus asked differently the last time is probably because Peter answered each of the first two times in like manner. Jesus uses agape for “love” in the first two questions, and phileo for “love” in the final question. Peter uses phileo for “love” in each of his responses. Notice the difference?
Jesus’ meeting with Peter taught Peter he didn’t have to pretend to feel something he didn’t or act like someone he wasn’t. It also meant that if this relational thing really is about “progress not perfection,” I’m ok, and so are you. Conversely, it means something that I tend to struggle with…it means, well, in my self-righteousness, I don’t get to treat you any other way than Jesus did when I don’t like your answer, think I know better than you, or believe my truth is better than yours, or all the other stuff that comes up when I’m disappointed. My principle of loving my friends means that I have to keep moving some of my personality traits out of our way. It means my praxis in my relationships can use revision at times. Honoring another’s feelings and space…being a safe presence…developing trustworthiness…thanks, Jesus. We could all use more of that in our lives. That is good news~
Mark A. Noll, 2017, “The Bible Then and Now” in The Bible in American Life, Philip Goff, et al (eds.) DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190468910.003.0028
Spiros Zodhiates, 1991, The Complete Word Study New Testament.