Feed My Sheep
Easter 3 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 21: 1 — 19
Our reading comprises two parts:
A. Verses 1 — 14:
At Galilee — getting back into the old, secure, routines, followed by breakfast with the Lord. Our text notes for this section come direct from J. C. Ryle’s commentary (c.1908): “Expository Thoughts”.
B. Verses 15 — 19:
Peter’s reinstatement: verse by verse “Reflections”.
A. Back At Galilee — Breakfast With The Lord:
Verses 1 — 14
Some Reflections on Our Text
(J. C. Ryle)
The appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection, described in these verses, is a deeply interesting portion of the Gospel history. The circumstances attending it have always been regarded as highly allegorical and figurative, in every age of the Church. It may, however, be justly doubted whether commentators and interpreters have not gone too far in this direction. It is quite possible to spiritualise and filter away the narratives of the Gospel, until we completely lose sight of the plain meaning of the words. In the present case we shall find it wise to confine ourselves to the great, simple lessons, which the passage undoubtedly contains.
We should observe, for one thing, in these verses, the poverty of the first disciples of Christ. We find them working with their hands, in order to supply their temporal wants, and working at one of the humblest of callings, — the calling of a fisherman. Silver and gold they had none, lands and revenues they had none, and therefore they were not ashamed to return to the business to which they had, most of them, been trained. Striking is the fact, that some of the seven here named were fishing, when our Lord first called them to be Apostles, and again fishing, when He appeared to them almost the last time. We need not doubt that to the minds of Peter, James, and John, the coincidence would come home with peculiar power.
This poverty of the Apostles goes far to prove the divine origin of Christianity. These very men who toiled all night in a boat, dragging about a cold wet net, and taking nothing, — these very men who found it necessary to work hard in order that they might eat, — these very men were some of the first founders of the mighty Church of Christ, which has now overspread one third of the globe. These were they who went forth from an obscure corner of the earth and turned the world upside down. These were the unlearned and ignorant men, who boldly confronted the subtle systems of ancient philosophy, and silenced its advocates by the preaching of the cross. These were the men who at Ephesus, and Athens and Rome, emptied the heathen temples of their worshippers, and turned away multitudes to a new and better faith. He that can explain these facts, except by admitting that Christianity came down from God, must be a strangely credulous man. Reason and common sense lead up to only one conclusion in the matter. Nothing can account for the rise and progress of Christianity but the direct interposition of God.
We should observe, for another thing, in these verses the different characters of different disciples of Christ. Once more, on this deeply interesting occasion, we see Peter and John side by side in the same boat, and once more, as at the sepulchre, we see these two good men behaving in different ways.
When Jesus stood on the shore, in the dim twilight of the morning, John was the first to perceive who it was, and to say, “It is the Lord;” but Peter was the first to spring into the water, and to struggle to get closer to his Master. In a word John was the first to see; but Peter was the first to act.
John’s gentle loving spirit was quickest to discern; but Peter’s fiery, impulsive nature, was quickest to stir and move. And yet both were believers, both were truehearted disciples, both loved the Lord in life, and were faithful to Him unto death. But their natural temperaments were not the same.
Let us never forget the practical lesson before us. As long as we live, let us diligently use it in forming our estimate of believers. Let us not condemn others as graceless and unconverted, because they do not see the path of duty from our standpoint, or feel things exactly as we feel them. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”
(1 Cor.12: 4.) The gifts of God’s children are not bestowed precisely in the same measure and degree. Some have more of one gift, and some have more of another. Some have gifts which shine more in public, and others have gifts which shine more in private. Some are more bright in a passive life, and some are more bright in an active one. Yet each and all members of God’s family, in their own way and in their own season, bring glory to God. Martha was “careful and troubled about much serving,” when Mary “sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His word.” Yet there came a day, at Bethany, when Mary was crushed and prostrated by over-much sorrow, and Martha’s faith shone more brightly than her sister’s. (Luke 10: 39 — 40; John 11: 20 — 28.) Nevertheless both were loved by our Lord. The one thing needful is to have the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to love Christ. Let us love all of whom this can be said, though they may not see with our eyes in everything. The Church of Christ needs servants of all kinds, and instruments of every sort; penknives as well as swords, axes as well as hammers, chisels as well as saws, Marthas as well as Marys, Peters as well as Johns. Let our ruling maxim be this, “Grace be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” (Ephesians 6: 24.)
We should observe, lastly, in these verses, the abundant evidence which Scripture supplies of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Here, as in other places we find an unanswerable proof that our Lord rose again with a real material body, and a proof seen by seven grown-up men with their own eyes, at one and the same time. We see Him sitting, talking, eating, drinking, on the shore of the lake of Galilee, and to all appearance for a considerable time. The morning sun of spring shines down on the little party. They are alone by the well-known Galilean lake far away from the crowd and noise of Jerusalem. In the midst sits the Master, with the nail-prints in His hands, — the very Master whom they had all followed for three years, and one of them, at least, had seen hanging on the cross. They could not be deceived. Will any one pretend to say that stronger proof could be given that Jesus rose from the dead? Can anyone imagine better evidence of a fact? That Peter was convinced and satisfied we know. He says himself to Cornelius, We did “eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead.” (Acts 10: 41.) Those who in modern times say they are not convinced, may as well say that they are determined not to believe any evidence at all.
Let us all thank God that we have such “a cloud of witnesses” to prove that out Lord rose again. The resurrection of Christ is the grand proof of Christ’s divine mission. He told “the Jews” # they need not believe He was the Messiah, if He did not rise again the third day. The resurrection of Christ is the top stone of the work of redemption. It proved that He finished the work He came to do, and, as our Substitute, had overcome the grave. The resurrection of Christ is a miracle that no infidel can explain away. Men may carp and cavil (split hairs or be pedantic) at Balaam’s ass, and Jonah in the whale’s belly, if they please, but till they can prove that Christ did not rise again we need not be moved. Above all, the resurrection of Christ is the pledge of our own. As the grave could not detain the Head, so it shall not detain the members. Well may we say with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1: 3.).
# “the Jews” — See The Jews in the Gospel of John.
B. Peter’s Reinstatement: Verses 15 — 19
Some Reflections On Our Text
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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
After the meal (see Verses 12 — 14) our Lord gets down to unfinished business. A short conversation follows. Many of the great scholars disagree as to the importance of the words used for “love” in the original Greek text. There is however, a sequence, a flow, which we need to appreciate.
Verses 15 — 17 represent a carefully constructed unit to demonstrate how our Lord went about restoring St. Peter’s self-confidence after his catastrophic failure to stand by Jesus in His hour of special need.
Before proceeding we should remember that this Gospel account by St. John is not a record of a conversation between Jesus and St. Peter conducted in classical Greek. It is a translation from their original homely Aramaic (of which we have no written record), and a representation of the event and all its Jewish cultural setting.
It was once popular to make much of our Lord’s use of two words for “to love”:
• agapao = used to express the Father’s love for the Son; the
Son’s love for us; and our love for God.
• phileo = used to express God’s friendship towards mankind,
as well as our friendship towards God and other people.
Also St. John’s Greek used two words for “to know”:
• oida = to have seen or perceived, hence to know.
• ginosko = to come to know, recognise, perceive (through personal
Some writers focus heavily on these classical Greek words. But this is misleading and can easily miss the real point of it all. All of these are used synonymously; i.e. we should not make a distinction between the pairs. It was common practice to use them without any intended distinction. Remember the language is high classical Greek — not the language of Jesus, nor His early disciples who communicated with one another in Aramaic, even if some could understand common Greek. Later with the influx into the Church of Gentiles (especially from outside Palestine), and Jews from the “Dispersion” Greek began to emerge as the prevailing language of early Christian culture.
So now, back to our reflection on verse 15.
Our Lord addressed His appointed “team leader” in the traditional (even formal) manner: “Simon Bar Jonah — son of John — do you love me more than these? Our Lord may have meant, “these things”, i.e. boats, nets, family business, etc, and the Hebrew context could have included that. The most common interpretation is to emphasise a comparison of Peter’s love with that of the other disciples, since Peter had previously boasted how much greater he loved the Lord than did the others. (See St. Mark 14: 29)
Our Lord knows perfectly well how much Peter loves him, but it is Peter who must have no doubt in himself. He is ashamed, after all his talk and ‘big noting’ of what he would do for the Lord, that he denied Jesus three times and ran away when he was most needed. Our Lord understands Peter, why he acted as he did, and how he is feeling at the present time. But Peter cannot be left in this state if he is to fulfil his role in the Church. The Lord begins taking him through a most beautiful process of inner healing. Peter is not asked, “Do you believe?” — or — “Are you converted?” — or — “Have you been born again?” These are complex questions and entirely inappropriate. Instead, mercifully, the Lord asks Peter to tell Him how he feels about Him.
Our Lord’s question has a little challenge in it. As mentioned above, Peter had once asserted that he loved Jesus more than the other disciples did. The question therefore before him is something like, “Do you still think you love me with love purer than anyone else’s love?”
Peter replies in a manner which may escape our notice. He could have answered Jesus with something like this: “I assure you I do”. Instead however, he goes further and states boldly, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you”. In a moment we will see the importance of this reply.
He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John,
do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know
that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus again asks about Peter’s love, leaving the others out of it. Just for the moment the spotlight is on Peter alone. “Do you really love me?” says Jesus, implying ‘as I love you’
(referring to the New Commandment the Lord gave them all only a couple of days earlier). Peter repeats the same reply, words to the effect: “I have very great love for you, though I admit — it may not be as pure as it might”. He does not venture to say a word about the others. He no longer compares the love in his heart with the love in the hearts of the other disciples. “I only know my own heart, and I feel sure I love you.” Jesus replies, “Take care of (or feed) my sheep”.
We note the great St Augustine observes that Christ, throughout this dialogue says “my” sheep or lambs, not “your“.
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you
love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a
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.
Yet again Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He is, by this means, bringing Peter closer to Him. Peter understands the question very well — “Do you really love me even to the degree you have just said?”
Peter is hurt, and now falls back on truth that cannot be refuted or diluted, or for that matter, held back. “Lord, you know all things. You know what sort of love I have for you, and I cannot hide it. My love is far from perfect, but I do love you.”
At that moment, Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Lord who knows all things. As with Thomas, the Lord has patiently drawn out Peter’s confession and proclamation. There is no doubt that Peter was recalling Psalm 139:
“Lord, I lie open to your scrutiny;
You know me, know when I sit down and when I rise up again,
Can read my thoughts from far away…..
Scrutinise me O god, as you will, and read my heart;
Put me to the test, and examine my restless thoughts.
See if on any false paths my heart is set,
And yourself — lead me in the ways of old.”
(Note: We have used the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament here, as this is the version, rather than the Hebrew, which was used by the early Church and by the writers of the Gospels.)
This will be Peter’s prayer for the rest of his life. Peter is healed of all self-doubt and haunting guilt. He is now fully restored by the One he acknowledges as his Lord.
Jesus quietly repeats: “Take care of my sheep.” (In other words: “Be a true and good shepherd to my sheep”.)
Three times Jesus has commanded Peter to take up the holy work of caring for the Good, True Shepherd’s flock. Relying on Christ’s strength he regains his courage and inner confidence. With those qualities he can be a good shepherd without being authoritarian, or lording it over the others.
Verses 18 and 19
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you
used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but
when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and
someone else will dress you and lead you where you
do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would
glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him,
For his humility and obedience, Jesus explains, he will be given the highest possible honour of dying in the same way as his Master: by crucifixion.
Calmly and without fuss Jesus concludes this time of renewal with the first message he ever addressed to Peter: “Follow me.” These words are to become St. Peter’s pathway to a life totally consecrated to the glory of God. In other words:
“Now there is nothing in the way. You are ready to serve as I
have prepared you for. Simply lead my flock by listening to
and following me. That is how your soul will rise to love me,
with the highest possible — purest love.
Now you can be confident that you will be empowered to keep
the first Commandment before all else: that you ‘love the Lord
your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all
your strength.’ Because now you can love them as I love you —
and you will not let your human faults and failings get in the
way. Your love reflects my perfection, not yours!
That is the rock upon which I will build my Church, and all
the furies of hell will never overcome it. Shalom Peter!”
We have been privileged to observe another very special moment in the relationship of Christ and His Apostles. After all the drama of the crucifixion, Peter has returned home thoroughly depressed. He couldn’t sit around talking about it, so he went fishing to take his mind off everything. But our Lord has other plans. Patiently he awaits Peter’s return to shore, attends to his bodily needs and then proceeds to confront Peter very gently with his problem. Without realising it, Peter, in his usual style, engages with the Lord honestly and openly, holding nothing back. Peter is very tender at this time, but our Lord knows how to restore him without destroying him. The outcome is indeed impressive, in fact, stunning almost beyond belief!
St. John has captured this unique moment for us because he realised in his ministry to God and to the Church that we are all just as fragile and vulnerable as St. Peter. We too need exactly the same personal friendship with Jesus Messiah — who was sent for that very purpose: that’s what the Hebrew meaning of Messiah conveys. We need the same healing and restoration. Let us pray for one another that we will respond to the call of our Lord to come to Him, to be healed and restored, and live in harmony and peace in our turbulent world. If we do that we will be unable to hold ourselves back from displaying to the whole world how wonderful it is to be won back to Jesus Christ.
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.
To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:
This website is highly recommended:
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Feed My Sheep
3rd Sunday of Easter Year C St. John 21: 1 — 19
1. After all the suffering and terrible treatment our Lord received — including abandonment by His chosen Apostles when they were needed most, St. Peter is feeling totally down and out. He had been a miserable failure, and he knew it! With great calmness and gentle conversation our Lord bypasses any request for an explanation and instead asks a very simple and straightforward question: “Do you love me?” That remains the standard which is to distinguish members of God’s Household; not how perfect we think we are, but how much we love our Lord and Saviour.
2. It is no use in life fearing (incurably) that our love is very imperfect — or that there are dark parts of our inner being we think must not be included in what we call our love for God.
The first Commandment, which Jesus upheld in its entirety, is that we must love God with every fibre of our being: which must include even our imperfect “parts”. That is, we must trust God to accept our imperfect love and that He will make up for any impurity. Only then can we be truly consecrated in His service. This is a mystery — very much a paradox, that our Lord insists, we acknowledge our
3. Here is our way ahead when we doubt our own selves: confess it to the Lord and boldly move on. This will be the real test of faith. Let us pray for, and support one another as we dare to take up the challenge from our Lord, to follow Him.
Blessed be God.
John 21: 1 to 19
3rd Sunday of Easter Year C
1 1 After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of
1 [1-23 There are many non-Johannine peculiarities in this chapter, some suggesting Lucan Greek style; yet this passage is closer to John than ⇒ John 7:53-⇒ 8:11. There are many Johannine features as well. Its closest parallels in the synoptic gospels are found in ⇒ Luke 5:1-11 and ⇒ Matthew 14:28-31. Perhaps the tradition was ultimately derived from John but preserved by some disciple other than the writer of the rest of the gospel. The appearances narrated seem to be independent of those in John 20. Even if a later addition, the chapter was added before publication of the gospel, for it appears in all manuscripts.
2  Zebedee’s sons: the only reference to James and John in this gospel (but see the note on ⇒ John 1:37). Perhaps the phrase was originally a gloss to identify, among the five, the two others of his disciples. The anonymity of the latter phrase is more Johannine (⇒ John 1:35). The total of seven may suggest the community of the disciples in its fullness.
3 [3-6] This may be a variant of Luke’s account of the catch of fish; see the note on ⇒ Luke 5:1-11.
4 [9,12-13] It is strange that Jesus already has fish since none have yet been brought ashore. This meal may have had eucharistic significance for early Christians since ⇒ John 21:13 recalls ⇒ John 6:11 which uses the vocabulary of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper; but see also the note on ⇒ Matthew 14:19.
6  None . . . dared to ask him: is Jesus’ appearance strange to them? Cf ⇒ Luke 24:16; ⇒ Mark 16:12; ⇒ John 20:14. The disciples do, however, recognize Jesus before the breaking of the bread (opposed to ⇒ Luke 24:35).
7  This verse connects John 20 and 21; cf ⇒ John 20:19, ⇒ 26.
8 [15-23] This section constitutes Peter’s rehabilitation and emphasizes his role in the church.
9 [15-17] In these three verses there is a remarkable variety of synonyms: two different Greek verbs for love (see the note on ⇒ John 15:13); two verbs for feed/tend; two nouns for sheep; two verbs for know. But apparently there is no difference of meaning. The threefold confession of Peter is meant to counteract his earlier threefold denial (⇒ John 18:17, ⇒ 25, ⇒ 27). The First Vatican Council cited these verses in defining that Jesus after his resurrection gave Peter the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over the whole flock.
10  More than these: probably “more than these disciples do” rather than “more than you love them” or “more than you love these things [fishing, etc.].”
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,