My Dear People,
Jesus initiates a very personal dialogue with Simon Peter, which focuses on the way Peter will bear witness to the risen Lord. It takes place after breakfast, which was prepared on “a charcoal fire” (21:19)—a detail that recalls Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus in Anna’s courtyard, where he stood warming himself by “a charcoal fire” (18:18). Peter denied Jesus three times, thereby rejecting Jesus and his own status as a Disciple. Jesus does not address him as “Peter” but as Simon, son of John, which was his name before becoming Jesus’ Disciple and the “rock.” Moreover, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him more than these, He reminds Peter about his solitary boast to be willing to lay down his life for Jesus and Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s threefold denial (13:37-38). Jesus now invites Peter to repent and profess his love for Him three times and, in so doing, restore their relationship.
Jesus asks Simon three times: “Do you love me?” and three times Peter answers: “You know that I love you.” After each profession of love from Peter, Jesus assigns him a responsibility as the shepherd of His sheep. “Feed my lambs. . . Tend my Sheep. . . Feed my sheep.” Throughout the Bible, people appointed by God to lead and govern His people are often spoken of as shepherds (e. g. 2 Sam 5:2; Ezek. 34:2; 1 Pet 5:2). In the Fourth Gospel, this scene recalls the Good Shepherd discourse (10:1-18). Jesus is the good shepherd and He gives Peter a unique share in His work of shepherding. As shepherd of Christ’s sheep, Peter has a special role as leader and custodian of Jesus’ disciples (See Matt 16:17-19; Luke 22:32). Modeled on the good shepherd, Peter’s office as shepherd is one of self-sacrificial service and care for the sheep (10:11-15). It is built upon Peter’s own discipleship and personal love for Jesus, for in 21:19, Jesus gives Peter the command that applies to all disciples: “Follow me.” At the heart of both discipleships in the church is personal love for Jesus.
The good shepherd “will lay down his life for his sheep” (10:15). Like Jesus, Peter’s role as the shepherd of Jesus’ sheep extends to the laying down of his own life, culminating in his martyrdom. Peter previously professed his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus 13:37) and Jesus said that Peter “Will follow later” (13:36). Now Jesus tells Peter: “When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted.” As the shepherd, Peter will have to lay down both his will and his life for Christ. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hand, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” The phrase “stretch out your hand” refers to crucifixion, and Peter was martyred by crucifixion during the persecution of Christians in Rome around A.D. 65. The Evangelist clarifies that Jesus had been talking about Peter’s death by which he would glorify God. Peter, therefore, will bear witness to the Lord by serving as.leader of Christ’s disciples and by laying down his life as martyr. Recall the term “martyr” is from the Greek word “witness.”
With the command “Follow me,” Jesus emphasizes that Peter’s own leadership with Him as a Disciple lies at the heart of his role as shepherd. When speaking about His own death, Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (12:26). For Peter to serve as the shepherd of Jesus’ sheep, he must follow Jesus completely, even to the point of laying down his life (13:37). He must carry out his role as shepherd, imitating Christ the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep (10:15), and thus performs the greatest act of love (15:13).
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente