“I don’t want to do it.”
“It’ll be okay. This is the next step for you. Trust me.”
“But I waited a long time to get away from my childhood of rough people and hopelessness. I thought those days were behind me. Now you want it in my face every day? Why, Lord?”
“Do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.”
“But what does that even mean? Aren’t I already feeding your sheep? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last 9 years in youth ministry?”
“I have a different flock in mind for you. Trust me. Do you love me?”
“Yes, of course I do. You know that I love you.”
“Then tend my lambs.”
“But Lord, I’m not sure I can. I’ve never been homeless. Why would they listen to me? What if I say the wrong things?”
“Do you love me?”
“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep. I chose you for this moment. You have what it takes, and I went before you and prepared the way. Just follow me.”
I lived this conversation nine years ago, before leaving traditional youth ministry. Like Peter falling back on fishing, youth ministry was my place of relative comfort. I knew what to expect. I was familiar with the tug of the net and the weight of a good haul as well as the frustration of being…fishless.
Oh yes, I get Peter. He and I have a lot in common.
I’ve gleaned many truths from the Bible story in John 21:
- When we throw our net in where Jesus tells us too, even working as a team we won’t be strong enough to pull in our catch, and our net won’t rip. I like the sound of that.
- Sometimes we provide the catch and sometimes Jesus does. (He was already cooking fish and bread over a fire before the disciples reached the shore and He asked them to bring more fish for the meal.)
- When Peter saw Jesus, he jumped in the water to head for shore. I’m guessing he was still trying to get his head around Jesus’ resurrection and was eager to be with Him as much as possible. I wonder if just for a moment, he thought it a second chance to walk on water. Would I?
- At the end of this passage when Peter asked about Jesus’ plan for John, Jesus told him not to worry about anyone else, just to follow Him. Now there’s a lesson I need to embrace!
Here’s my favorite part of the story:
The Bible tells us Peter was hurt and probably frustrated when Jesus asked him the same question three times. Yes, it takes some of us longer to catch on than others, but I think it was more than that. Three is one of the numbers that repeats throughout the Bible, especially in Peter’s life:
- Peter spent three years with Jesus before this story takes place.
- He was one of the three people in Jesus’ inner circle, and present at the transfiguration.
- He had denied Jesus three times.
- Jesus came back to life three days after His death and Peter was one of the first people He pursued.
- The fishing story in John 21 was the third time Jesus had appeared since His resurrection.
- Going back to the beginning, the third day of creation was when the water parted and earth rose up creating land. That same day there was vegetation (growth) and it spread. Can you see the parallels between creation and the resurrection?
I’m fascinated by numbers – it’s no accident that our ministry is called SEVENS. Numbers create beautiful patterns and focal points to help us understand order and importance in the stories of our Christ, the Bible, and our lives today.
Like my friend Chris pointed out in his post on Sacred Margins earlier this week, Peter’s job changed when Jesus took him from being a fisherman to being a fisher of men. Peter owned a fishing business, which means the man had skills and potential, a mighty combination which Jesus used to plant and grow His Church. He still works that way, you know.
It wasn’t Jesus, but Peter who needed this confirming conversation of the triple confession of love. Jesus knew who Peter was and where he was headed, but I think He also knew that in the back of Peter’s mind, he hadn’t let go of the triple denial. By asking about his love, it made Peter think a little and open himself up for healing of that wound. It was further confirmation that Peter was getting a second chance. It also provided an opportunity for Jesus to give him his mission, not once, or twice, but three times.
I too required more than one charge about the mission Jesus gave ME to feed His sheep. My concentration was on the flock of teenagers in my life and God moved me, literally, changing my flock to the homeless, broken-hearted, and captives in the Denver and Boulder area. New flock, new mission, new confirmation that Yes, I love Jesus and He’s building something with me. I’m part of His plan. He’ll keep welcoming me back when I drift and doubt, giving me direction…as many times as it takes.