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Month: April 2016

Bible Tuesday for the 5th Sunday of Easter 2016

Bible Tuesday for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2016

Acts 11:1-18

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

There are two strains of thought regarding being Jewish in the Hebrew scriptures. One says, “You will be my voice to the peoples. All nations shall come to you that they may know the Lord your God.” Israelites are chosen to be magnets in the world, drawing all peoples unto Himself. The other line of thinking is present most obviously in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and says, “Stay away from all foreign peoples. Do not intermarry. Cast away your non-Jewish spouses. Shun the alien and the foreigner for they corrupt you and lead you to idolatry.” Indeed, in the book of Joshua, when the Israelites are given marching orders to cross the Jordan River into Canaan and take the Promised Land for themselves, they are told to slaughter every man, woman, and children, and even all livestock so as to prevent religious corruption.

At the time of Jesus, the strongest of these two strains of thought was the one calling for a circling of wagons and shunning all foreign powers and peoples. No surprise that this was prevalent since at that time Israel was an occupied land and the perversity of Rome and its many conquered peoples was corrupted Temple leadership and wealthy society.

In the gospels, Jesus himself says, “I came for the lost sheep of Israel,” and “It is not right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs.” Yet, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well, praises the Syro-Phonecian woman for her faith (after he called her a dog) and welcomed the Greeks who told Philip and Nathaniel, “We want to see Jesus.”

With both welcoming and shunning the goyim/ethnos (anyone who isn’t Jewish) being commanded in Hebrew scriptures and Jesus’ teaching, it is no wonder that Peter and the early Christian elders in Jerusalem were so conflicted about who gets to follow Jesus, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Jewish followers for the most part believed that only Jews could be Jesus’ disciples and therefore “sozoed” (restored, completed, but most frequently translated “saved”). But in this lesson, Peter explains how he was called by the Holy Spirit to the house of a Roman Centurion and ended up baptizing this military commander and his whole household, all of whom received the Holy Spirit in the process. This completely unexpected and seeming heretical behavior of the Holy Spirit challenged all that these disciples believed, and moved them into the direction of the abundant life Jesus came to give.

Psalm 148

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.

6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12Young men and women alike, old and young together!

13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!

The book of Psalms has exactly 150 Psalms. The last few are glorious hymns of praise. Note the more inclusive strain of thought present in verse 11.

Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Various revivalist and evangelical preachers have, over the past 200 years, developed a theology called “The Rapture”. It is a belief that at some point all of the God fearing chosen people will transported, or raptured, from the earth into heaven, while the rest of the peoples of the earth get to duke it out for a while and try to get themselves “saved” before Jesus’ second coming. Then Jesus will judge the remaining peoples of the earth, sheep from goats, and then God will destroy the earth and all creation while the raptured and newly saved sheep remain with God in heaven forever. This theology is based on a few verses in the book of Daniel and on a few verses in Revelation. These are Christians who tend to talk about how late it is and how you need to repent now because the end is very near, nearer than you think.

It is ironic that this theology uses the book of Revelation to support Jesus sucking all the chosen out of earth and then destroying earth, while completely ignoring the last three chapters of Revelation. In the above passage, no one is raptured off of earth to the golden city with the pearly gates. Rather, the city descends to earth. Then, with the Holy City of God, the New Jerusalem populated with people of each tribe and race, descended upon earth, the earth and heavens are made new. Only then does the old earth pass away, or fade from the renewed creation.

There is no rapturing in Revelation. Ultimately, there is renewal and healing for the peoples of each tribe and language, where Christ will be all.

John 13:31-35

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It is Maundy Thursday, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet and handed a piece of dipped bread to Judas Iscariot, thus identifying him as the betrayer. Judas leaves the dinner early and the above text begins.

In the gospel of John, Jesus is always calm, cool, collected, and in control. Jesus’ response to Judas leaving to betray him is not anger or sadness or frustration. No, instead Jesus describes this first domino to fall as his glory. Indeed, if one’s glory is one’s reputation, one’s accomplishments, the highpoint of one’s career, then truly Jesus’ crucifixion as sacrifice for all creation is His glory. That God would define Jesus through the cross so profound and backward so as to also be glory.

Then Jesus interprets this new kind of glory as the most profound act of love, a love so new and uncommon that when practicing it, lovers will be identified with Jesus. Selfless, undeserved, unconditional love…love as of a Father to his only Son, full of Grace and Truth.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 4, 2016

Bible Tuesdays for the 4th Sunday of Easter, 2016

Acts 9:36-43

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.[a] She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Throughout the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, Luke refers to both men and women as “disciples”. In the above passage, the first verse give us a perfect example of this. Note also that we see an example of a person who has two names: Tabitha and Dorcas. Why two names? Tabitha is the Aramaic version and Dorcas is the Greek version of the same name.

Saul/Paul is another example: Saul is Hebrew and Paul is Greek.

Jewish death and burial custom at the time of Jesus dictated the dead would be washed and laid out on a bed for one day of wake/visitation. The body would be entombed within 24 hours of death but the visitation, called “Sitting Shiva”, would continue for seven days. This passage of Acts adds a little more detail to these customs: handiwork of the diseased is also put on display.

How difficult it must have been for Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead. How long did he kneel in prayer before he had the nerve to trust God with actually bringing someone back to life before his eyes?! Sure, Peter had seen the resurrected Jesus, but that was Jesus, whom Peter had seen raise several people from the dead; so why not God raise Jesus? But this was different. Peter was just a regular guy and this was just a regularly lady. Yet, in the presence of Peter, God raised her from the dead.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a] 3 he restores my soul.[b] He leads me in right paths[c] for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d] I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

In the teachings and prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures (aka: Old Testament), God declares that the kings of Israel were to be His shepherds. God was the flock creator and owner, and the kings were to serve God as shepherd. This psalm was written by King David during his reign. The first line of this psalm codifies King David’s understand of God’s relationship with him. “The LORD is my shepherd.” The psalm that follows is addressed both to others and to God, describing the marvelous qualities of God’s shepherding King David.

Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Continuing last week’s throne room scene, John of Potmos now views citizens of heaven. Not limited to 144,000, the folks in heaven are described as a great multitude that no one could count. They are not limited to Jews, or Jews who believe Jesus is Messiah and God. No, John of Potmos sees folks in heaven from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…robed in white with palm branches in their hands.” They are robed in white to signify their purity after the blood of the lamb has made them clean. They carry palm branches signifying their martyrdom. John is being shown those who have suffered and died at the hands of enemies of God, whom the lamb now shelters and protects. Heaven is not filled with only Lutherans or only Catholics or only Jihadi Muslims and their fabled virgins, but all whom God makes pure through the sacrifice of Christ.

John 10:22-40

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ —and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there.

The Festival of the Dedication is another name for Chanukah/Hanukah. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus only does ministry for one year, culminating in his celebration of Passover with the disciples, subsequent arrest, execution, and resurrection. In the gospel of John, Jesus does ministry for three years and goes to Jerusalem three times. This is Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem which falls during Chanukah.

The gospel writer of John refers to Jewish leaders in Jerusalem as “the Jews”. In this gospel, the term “the Jews” should not be understood to refer to all Jewish people, but only to Jerusalem religious leaders. Therefore, the scene in this gospel pericope should be read as Jerusalem religious leaders swarm Jesus with accusations while he is in the Temple for the holiday worship. They are bullying Jesus, trying to coerce him into saying something for which they can nail him. Jesus responds by double binding them. They do not believe the truth about Jesus because they do not recognize God when they see Him. They are not God’s people because they do not believe Jesus. Caught in this bind, which they believe is not the truth but a horrendous heresy, they attempt to stone Jesus. Even as they attempt to kill him, still Jesus pleads with them to believe in the miracles/signs/works that he has done so that they might see and know God. Instead, the Jews drive God from their presence.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 3, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Easter 3, 2016

Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”+

The book of Acts has an action/adventure quality to it, due in part to Luke’s parallel storytelling, as evident in the beginning of this passage: “Meanwhile…” The parallel story is Phillip evangelizing in Samaria and baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch, told in the chapter immediately preceding the one above.

Historically, scholars have found evidence that Jerusalem was a volatile place during the life of Jesus all the way up to 70AD. The Roman occupation caused great turmoil and trauma to Jewish society. Just as in the time of the Nazis, there were Christians who became puppets to the Nazis, Christians who tried to assassinate Hitler, Christians who hid Jews, and Christians who tried to keep their heads down and shut up, so it was with Jews under Roman occupation. Jesus called unwanted attention to the Jews by the Romans when he said things like “I and the Father are one.” Jesus was stated that he is God, a stance Romans would not brook and Jews found heretical. This socio-political, religious tension resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion. However, Jesus’ movement of living and spreading the good news of freedom in and through God by God’s love and forgiveness catapulted forward by the power of the Holy Spirit starting at Pentecost.

The gospel writer, Luke, tells this struggle of Roman rule, Jewish Temple authority, and the working of the Holy Spirit in this parallel stories of Phillip and Paul. First Luke relates the story of the stoning of Stephen, a leader in the Jesus movement in Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities pick him up for teaching about Jesus and drag him in front of the “Temple Senate” which is called the Sanhedrin. They found Stephen guilty of heresy and drag him outside the city to stone him. A young Pharisee named Saul approved of the stoning and watched everyone’s coats while they did the deed.

“That day [the day of Stephen’s
stoning] a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except some of the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria…Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” Acts 8:1-4

After the above passage of fear and danger, Luke tells of Phillip’s faithful service to Samaritans and the Ethiopian man. Then the narrative returns to Saul continuing his rampage. But there is a major disruption on the road to Damascus.

“Why do you persecute me?”-Jesus does not ask “Why are you persecuting my followers?” but “Why do you persecute me?” Luke continues in the gospel of Matthew’s vein, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” In these days of Ferguson, imprisoning refugees, racial and religious bias from political candidates and ourselves, it is a profound thought that whatever we say or do to others, we say about and do to Jesus.

“For three days he was without sight…” – Saul was blind to the gospel of Jesus. Jesus made him blind to everything else that Saul might gain his sight of Jesus. Note how long Saul was blind: three days. Three days Jonah was in the belly of the whale. Three days Jesus was in the dank darkness of the tomb. Three days Saul was in the death of his old self, waiting for his new self to become.

“Lord, I have heard from many about this man…” – Ananias is a faithful man who does what we all do. He mentally sorts good from bad, safe from dangerous, faithful from sinful. In a vision, Jesus calls him to set aside his groupings and see people as God sees them. Ananias is humbly faithful to Jesus. We usually aren’t.

Psalm 30

1I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

2O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

3O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

4Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

5For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

6As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”

7By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

8To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:

9“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

10Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

11You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

While this psalm appears to have originally been written to celebrate recovery from serious illness, it was later reinterpreted and used as a psalm for rededication of the Temple and for rededication of the Israelites to God.

While some portions of psalms are vindictive and spiteful, (coming across as and quite ungodly), others voice surprising liberty in relating to God. The psalmist is very honest in speaking of his haughty pride, “I shall never be moved,” and of his frustration with God, “Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?!”

May we feel so trusting of God and so free in our relationship with God that we may be so honest with ourselves and God.

Revelation 5:11-14

11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

This pericope of Revelation is taking from the first throne room scene, where John of Patmos, through a vision, is looking upon the courts of God. It is only in the gospel of John and in the book of Revelation that Jesus is referred to as “The lamb of God.”

So these words sound familiar? For those Lutherans who sing hymns of praise during their liturgies, these words should ring quite familiar. “Worthy is Christ, the lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. Power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, blessing, and glory are his.” While liturgical writers draw these words from Revelation, John of Patmos drew them from the hymns sung in Roman court. These are the attributes and praises sung of the Caesars, who were considered to be living gods. John lifts these words from Roman royalty protocol and grants them to whom they really belong, God.

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 sea. 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 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 passage immediate preceding this one is last week’s gospel, the story of resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples in the locked room without Thomas and then again a week later in the locked room with Thomas.

The gospel writer does not tell us what the disciples do between those first appearances of the resurrected Jesus who breathes into them the Holy Spirit, and this breakfast on the beach. It is a curious thing to ponder: In the gospel of John, the disciples are given the Holy Spirit to forgive and retain sins, but are not told what or how to do this work until this breakfast on the beach. Even then, the instructions are very vague at best, and only given to Peter. How did the church get from there to where we are now? Has it been a faithful journey, in keeping with Jesus’ original words and teachings?

“Do you love me more than these?” – This question can make me squirm. Is Jesus really asking the question no parent dare ask, “Who do you love best?” The Greek sentence structure is equally as vague as the English sentence structure. This could ask, “Do you love me more than you love these?” It could also ask, “Do you love me more than these love me?” which poses an equally horrible question, “Do you love me more than Daddy loves me?”

“Do you love me?” x 3 – Remember that three always indicates God’s involvement. In Hebrew tradition, it is the perfect number and thereby represents the perfection of God. How many times does Peter deny God? 3 times. How many times does Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me?” 3 times. How many times does Jesus give the command to feed and tend the flock? 3 times. The gospel writer makes it clear that it is God who speaks these divine demands for love and commands for tending and nurturing the flock.

How do we obey these commands and meet these demands to serve and love? “Follow me.” Thank you, Jesus, that the Holy Spirit has already been breathed into us. May the Holy Spirit work in and through us perfect obedience to your commands.