As most of you know, I like to eat. I mean, I really like to eat. Pick a food group, I have a favorite, especially where breads and sweets are concerned. When I was younger – much younger, I might add – I could eat ridiculous amounts of food without any apparent effect to my body whatsoever. I would go to fast food places and get enough food to feed a family of four and call it lunch. In fact, there are meals that I order now for my entire family that I would have eaten myself in my late teens and early twenties. Time, however, becomes the great equalizer where all things physical are concerned. So, as I got into my forties, I tried to cut back on some of what I ate. I still enjoyed the same stuff, just not as much of it or as often as I would have probably liked.
A week or so ago, I went to the doctor for a checkup. I had been dreading this for a while – the last five years that I didn’t go – because I had a bad feeling about what the labs might be and how they might interrupt my current diet of whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Sure enough, a few days after the appointment my labs came back, and I got a call from the doctor to say most everything looked good except my cholesterol, which was high; not excessively high but right on the border high. The message I got from the practitioner was simple: take a medication to lower your cholesterol (something called Atorvastatin) or change your diet. Since my wife is a dietitian, she laid out the general diet I must follow and gave me an overview of what I had to do: exercise several times a week, eat lean meats; lots of fruits and vegetables; limited added sugar, salt, oils, fats, or anything else that’s fun.
If I want to get my cholesterol down and avoid having to be medicated, I can no haz cheeseburger, I can no haz da gud fuds.
I’m not always the best at keeping track of things like this because I am a free-range eater – meaning I eat whatever is freely available in range of my reach. So, I have a little gadget to help me with this less than savory endeavor. It’s called My Plate and I downloaded it to my phone. If I eat something, I log it in the program and the program keeps track of things like fat, sugar, sodium, and those kinds of things which are in my food. I know, rather quickly, when I am eating too much of one thing or another. If I watch what I am eating and follow the guidelines the program sets for me, I should be healthier when I go back in a month or so to get my blood work checked again. It will be a matter of following the general directions of my dietitian and following my diet closely in order to be healthy.
Following something or someone, especially following closely or imitating, is difficult. Take our passage today and consider the conversation Jesus is having with Peter. Peter must have been feeling déjà vu all over again. There was a charcoal fire, three questions, a sense of brokenness, feelings of pain and guilt. Yet, the situations were very different. In the first, Peter has watched the death of his beloved friend and teacher and sits among a crowd of people who are questioning him, accusing him of being a follower of Jesus. Fearing for his life, Peter denies that he knows Jesus three times just as the sun begins to rise on Saturday morning, rejecting the relationship he had forged with Jesus over the three years of Jesus earthly ministry. In this second situation, Peter sits with the risen Jesus next to another fire of burning charcoal. Again, Peter is asked something three times, but this time is different. Peter sits next the Jesus, the one who came back from the grave, and is hearing forgiveness in a rather strange way: the forgiveness of being given a task.
Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers yes and Jesus answers each yes with a slightly different phrase, “feed my lambs”, tend my sheep”, “feed my sheep.” After the last time, Jesus gives Peter a glimpse into his future as he continues his role as a disciple and teacher of disciples: you will walk the road I have walked, the road you feared as you stood around the fire on the night after I died. And when Jesus has said all of this to Peter, he issues a command but one that could also be taken as a questioning challenge, “Follow me.”
What Jesus has done with Peter here is threefold. First, Jesus has shown Peter forgiveness but letting Peter know he still trusts Peter to do the job. The job is taking care of the current and future disciples, the job of being shepherd to those who come afterward, the role of leadership in the Jerusalem church. Jesus is saying to Peter, “You are still fit for duty. Get back to your post.” Second, Jesus is letting Peter know that he believes Peter will live up to the task. By saying that Peter would die in a manner like Jesus’s own death, Jesus is letting Peter know that he believes Peter will live into the role of he has been given. According to church legend, Peter did exactly that, being crucified at or around the same time Paul was executed. Third, Jesus is offering the invitation first offered three years before once again, “Follow me.” The Greek word akoloutheo, translated as follow, literally means “to accompany someone who takes the lead in determining direction and route of movement” In other words, you are giving up the right to choose where you are going and how you are getting there. Again, there is a sense of forgiveness as Jesus invites Peter to continue the journey already started. Follow me is not just a reminiscing of old times, it is the offer of service as a shepherd and the responsibility that goes with it. Peter is accepting the role of leadership knowing it not only calls him to continue to follow but to take the responsibility of leader others as they follow.
Peter’s lesson can quite easily be taken as a lesson for us. Following Jesus is about following/imitating the life and ministry of Jesus not just showing up at church. It is the work we do the other six days of the week that we are celebrating on Sunday. It is born out of knowing that even when make mistakes, do it the wrong way, say the wrong thing, Jesus is willing to allow us to keep trying – be forgiven – that we can learn to do it right. God has given us this task as the church because we are capable of it. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and by tapping into the life of the Spirit (Galatians 5), we are equipped to be both sheep and shepherds, disciples and teachers of disciples as we accept the role of service we are called to in our discipleship.
Now the question we must ask is, “What is the answer?” Jesus invites us with a statement to the life of discipleship, followership, so how do we answer? Do we deny the calling, the invitation, act as if it never happened or do we learn to walk as shepherding sheep, following and leading others to follow?
Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene A. Nida. 1989. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains: Vol. 2 Indices. Vol. 2. New York: United Bible Societies.
Louw, Johannes P., and Nida Eugene A. 1989. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains: Vol. 1 Introduction & Domains. Vol. 1. New York: United Bible Societies.
Malina, Bruce J., and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. 1998. Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press.
Martin, Francis, and William M. Wright IV. 2015. The Gospel of John: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Schaff, Philip. 2014. History of the Christian Church: Complete Eight Volumes in One. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services.
Wright, N.T. 2004. John – For Everyone: Part Two, Chapters 11-21. London / Louisville: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Westminster John Knox Press.
 (Martin and Wright IV 2015, p. 352-353)
 (Martin and Wright IV 2015, p. 354)
 (Wright 2004, p. 164-165)
 (Schaff 2014, Kindle Loc. 3405, 3918, 4001)
 (Louw and A., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains: Vol. 1 Introduction & Domains 1989, p. 202) (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains: Vol. 2 Indices 1989, p. 8)