Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep. 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.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
I am a people watcher. And as I watch people I find that most people are people watchers. Whether at the mall, Starbucks, or in church, people are interesting and intriguing to watch. But sometimes watching people can be dangerous for us spiritually, and get us distracted from following Jesus.
That’s what occurs to me in reading today’s Scripture text. Here is one of the most tender and alluring scenes in the Bible as the resurrected Jesus catches up with a frightened and fleeing Peter. In the dawning light of a new day Jesus has prepared a fisherman’s breakfast for a surprised Peter and a few other renegade disciples. Jesus wants to reclaim and welcome back into His circle of love those who had once followed Him.
After the last of the charcoal broiled fish and bread Jesus takes Peter for a walk by the Sea to renew and reaffirm their love. The stumbling, impetuous Peter who had denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest hears the words “Feed my sheep”. Newly restored and commissioned Peter is told the cost of following Jesus. It will mean trouble ahead. When he is old he will “glorify God” by having his arms stretched out on a crossbar and led away to death by crucifixion. Early stories from the church fathers and historians tell us that Peter was arrested in Rome, bound, and led to the place of his execution, and crucified upside down.
Having been told by Jesus the cost of following after Him, Peter gets distracted. He starts watching other people: “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved (i.e. the Apostle John) following them…When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’”
I find Peter’s first reaction to Jesus’ warning about what lay ahead for him to be very understandable. “All right Lord, You’ve told the cost of following You, but what will it cost John?” But without a blink of His eye Jesus fires back: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” If I have plans for others that are different from what I have for you, what is that to you Peter? You follow me!
I get myself into trouble when I watch other people and question Jesus’ plan for them. Jesus keeps saying, “You just follow me”. Or sometimes I think other people fail me, or let me down, but Jesus still says, “What is that to you? Don’t get distracted! Follow me!”
In Romans 14 the Apostle Paul is taking on what was then the controversial issue of freedom to eat meat as opposed to only eating vegetables. Paul warns any carnivorous Christian against looking down on the “weaker” who believes one can only eat vegetables:
Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand (Romans 14:4).
It is to our Lord that my Christian sister or brother will give account, and not to me. If Jesus wills a different path for another Christian than He wills for me, what is that to me? God is able to hold him up and make him stand. And if Jesus wills that John remain alive until Jesus returns, what is that to Peter? Follow Jesus!
I pray for me, and I pray for you, and for all who follow after Jesus that we would keep our eyes pinned on Him!
Grace and peace,
photo by Nick Thompson