Third Sunday of Easter, 1st May 2022

John 21:1–19

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. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 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. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son 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.’ 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.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son 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. 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.’

The risen Jesus had already appeared twice to the apostles in Jerusalem. They had now returned to their native Galilee as Jesus had commanded them, and seven ot them had spent the night fishing, but had caught nothing.

Then Jesus stood on the shore. But none of the apostles recognized him. The risen and glorified body of Christ would not be visible to human earthly eyes. He took on a human appearance, with physical qualities as on the two occasions in Jerusalem, when he ate with them in order to convince them that he had truly risen, and when he showed them his wounds.

The beloved disciple, John, was the first to recognize him. Peter in his usual impetuosity could not wait for the boat to come ashore, he jumped into the water and swam or waded in. When they were ashore, Jesus had prepared a meal for them. Even though John saw Christ in this man on the shore, it is clear that his appearance was not that which they had grown to know so well in their years as his followers. But yet they believed he was the Christ.

The principal purpose of this apparition becomes clear now when Jesus asked Peter three times about his love of him. Simon bar-Jonah, to whom Christ in his earthly life had promised the primacy (Matthew 16:18 and John 1:42) receives it now. Having been questioned three times by the Saviour, as to the sincerity of his love for him, he is appointed the shepherd of Christ’s flock – the Church. It is Peter’s destiny to follow the Good Shepherd even to laying down his life for the sheep.

That day will come when Peter, like his Master, will end his life on the cross, “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you,” a prophecy fulfilled on the Vatican Hill some thirty-seven years later. Even unto the death on the cross, Peter carried out his invitation of the Master, “follow me,” to the last.

Christ uses a new metaphor – Simon (Peter) is to be the new shepherd – he would take the place of Christ, as head and director of the Christian flock. He would provide protection and pasturage for Christ’s sheep and lambs. He would be the keeper and head of Christ’s Church. This position of authority was recognized by his fellow apostles and by the first Christians. It is evident in almost every page of the Acts.

There were Christians who refused obedience to him, but not one of them claimed for himself the privilege of Peter and his successors. That the Church, the society founded by Christ to bring salvation to the world, should need a visible Head on earth, needs no further proof than that Christ himself saw it as necessary and arranged it accordingly. The sheep and lambs nowadays have as much need of pasturage and protection as, if not more than, those of the first century. Christ, our Saviour and our Good Shepherd, provided for all time. Amen.