“Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.'” John 21:17
The word “feed” can be used as an acrostic to help us think about Peter and the disciples, and to help us think about our own faith: “F” for “fearful”; “E” for “excited”; “E” for “encouraged;” and “D” for “Destined.”
Peter and the disciples are fearful. Jesus has appeared to them twice in Jerusalem, and on both occasions the doors have been locked for fear of what might happen and now they have returned to Galilee. Peter needed to feel secure; he needed to be back in Galilee, because things had gone wrong in Jerusalem. He had been a failure and he had gone back to the things he knew. “I am going fishing”, says Peter in Chapter 21 Verse 3, and his companions say, “We will go with you.” What thought might have been passing through their minds? As they went back to their old work, what did they think about the three years that had passed? What did their friends and neighbours think about them, coming back to their old trade after so long away? Saint John writes that, “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”
Peter and the disciples were fearful, and who wouldn’t have had such feelings when seeing what had happened to Jesus, their fear was well-grounded; none of us would have felt any differently. Fear brings them back to the place where they felt safe and when things go wrong, which of us would not want to be back at home, back among the places and the people we knew? Being fearful is part of being human, if we hadn’t fears, we wouldn’t survive; we can recognize how those disciples must have felt.
From “F” for “fearful”, we move to “E” for “excited.” Peter is an excitable person, look at moments during the Gospel story: Peter wants to walk on the water, Peter declares he will never deny Jesus. Peter is impulsive, he sometimes speaks before thinking as when he declared the would build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. When Peter is told in Verse 7, “It is the Lord!”, we might have expected what followed, “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake.” When he met with Jesus, water would have been dripping from his clothes, but Peter was not worried.
Being excited is not often a feeling associated with most churches. We might be excitable people when it comes to other things, sport or celebrities, but church is not a place we would generally associate with excitement. We would have to ask ourselves why we don’t feel excited. Peter is excited because he is going to meet Jesus who has risen from the dead, if we believe that Jesus is present with us, shouldn’t we have a sense of excitement?
Fearful, excited, the second “E” is encouraged. John captures a sense of awe and wonder as he describes what happened on the lakeshore. In Verse 12, Jesus says to them, “Come and have breakfast.” The disciples are simply overwhelmed, they do not know what to say, John tells us, “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.” It must have been a moment filled with an extraordinary sense of joy, an extraordinary sense that this was something beyond all their expectations. It is a moment of extraordinary encouragement. How many times afterwards must they have told and retold that story? Here was evidence for them that the resurrection was real, for ghosts do not barbecue fish on a beach and share food with their friends. The breakfast that morning must have tasted like no other they had ever eaten.
We need encouragement in our faith. If the disciples, who have been with Jesus for three years, still need to be encouraged, how much more do we need encouragement? We are not going to have the opportunity of sharing breakfast with Jesus on a beach, but we do need to feel that there is much to encourage us, much to give us confidence. As Christian people, it is important for us to encourage each other, it is important for us to be part of a feeling that Jesus is with us. If we really have that feeling, we cannot be anything other than encouraged.
Fearful, excited, encouraged, the final letter is “D” for destined. Peter is destined to be a leader of the church, three times he has denied Jesus and, now three times, Jesus says to him, “Feed my sheep.” Peter is destined for leadership, but he is also destined for suffering, in Verse 18, Jesus says, “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.” After the fear and the excitement and the encouragement, Peter must have felt another sharp change of mood. In case any of John’s readers did not understand what Jesus was saying about Peter, John adds a note in Verse 19 that Jesus “said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.” Jesus does not give Peter time to ponder, “After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.'” Peter knows for what he is destined, but also knows that he must follow Jesus.
We do not know for what we are destined, but we believe that God has a plan for us, that there is a purpose in our lives, even when that purpose is sometimes very hard for us to discern. We need a confidence that we have a destiny, otherwise life would be very difficult to comprehend. Like Peter, the challenge is not to ponder on for what we are destined, but to follow Jesus; the challenge is that everyday our priority should be to follow him.
Fearful, excited, encouraged, destined: four steps in the faith of Peter and four steps we can take in our own faith.