PLEASE ANSWER THE QUESTION

          Before continuing the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, I’d like for you to click on Marie’s comments.  She’s raised some thought-provoking ideas, as she always does.  In an earlier comment, she also mentions another helpful tool you can use as you study Scripture.  In my case, I’ve found a Harmony of the Gospels to be extremely helpful in trying to understand the chronology of events in Jesus life.  As you already know, the pace of events accelerated as we got closer to the Trial, Crucifixion and Resurrection.  You also know the story of His life is told by different writers, each from his own point of view and for his own reason for a specific audience.

            It wasn’t as if CNN had camera crews and reporters onsite for immediate worldwide satellite coverage.  There were no ‘talking heads’ who had to file immediate reports and meet deadlines.  Some of the Gospel accounts were written down later. Add to the ‘mix’ the gamut of emotions the entire “cast” had experienced in such a brief span of time.  Talk about a roller coaster ride!  From the time we call “Palm Sunday” to the Resurrection, try to imagine what was going on and how the Disciples must have felt. From the intoxicating, breath taking roar of an excited crowd waving palm fronds, welcoming Messiah, shouting to the top of their lungs in glorious anticipation: “Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!!” to the vicious maddened mob screaming and spitting at the top of their lungs, hoarse, harsh and incredibly cruel: “Crucify Him.  Let Him be crucified!  We won’t have this man to rule over us!”             

            With all that was happening, the little band must also have felt fear, knowing full well the caldron of suspicion and hatred could quickly and easily boil over and spill out on them.  They were also angry.  Frustrated.  Grieving over their loss and their high hopes crashed!  Dashed to pieces on the Anvil of cruel hypocrisy and injustice.  On the heels of that, the discovery that Jesus’ body is no longer in the cave grave!  And a growing suspicion is replaced by a realization that JESUS IS ALIVE.  HE’S COME BACK AS HE PROMISED!

            Can’t you just sense the excitement?  The confusion? This incredible sequence of events overwhelmed even the most disciplined and diligent and intelligent reporter. The confusion has turned to chaos, and the only One who really understands what’s going on hasn’t had time to set the record straight.  The reality of the Resurrection dawned upon the small band so suddenly, so brilliantly and unexpectedly , that it’s no wonder one of the accounts says the Disciples “believed not for joy.”  What that means, quite literally, is the first believers were so shocked and surprised they couldn’t comprehend the enormity and magnificence of such Truth!  They seem at times also to be completely bewildered byt the rapidly changing events.

           So, like Marie, I have trouble sometimes following the action and sorting out what happened, when, as witnessed by whom, etc. 

 

            We continue :                  

   

John 21:15  “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?”    Before you hear what was said, do you think Jesus would ask such a personal question in front of the other Disciples, or did they perhaps go off to the side and speak quietly?  I don’t ever recall Jesus embarrassing Peter (Once more, Marie alertly pointed out an exception to the observation I just made.  The circumstances, however, were quite different in my opinion.*)  He never rubbed salt into the open wound, still smarting.  Somehow, I can’t imagine him “dressing down” an already humbled, humiliated Peter.  He doesn’t say: “You stupid Jerk!  You’re never going to amount to anything!  How could I have wasted so much valuable time on such a simpleton?  I warned you, and you ignored me!  You swaggered and strutted and boasted so loudly and proudly. Then, after you were warned, you proceeded to waffle under pressure! Publicly!” Instead, examine carefully how the conversation takes place.  Notice how kind and patient Jesus was. Notice also, that Jesus doesn’t let Peter wonder off course. 

 

            When He asks a question, He expects us to answer.

            Before we think further about the “Question which begs to be answered,” have you ever thought about this:  WHY would Jesus ask such a question in the first place?  Doesn’t it seem to you that He”s perceptive enough, and a good enough judge of human behaviour, that He already knew the answer?  He’d sure “nailed it” accurately on other occasions. Why, then, would he ask a question for which He already knew the answer?

            Personally, I think the question was raised and Jesus pressed for an answer for Peter’s benefit. The Lord has a way of looking behind our face and knowing what’s happening on the inside.  Peter was no exception. From Jesus’ point of view, since He probably knew the danger and suffering ahead for Peter, He knew the task would be much too great. . . unless Peter really loved Christ.  Was really committed!

            It might be a good idea to look at other occasions where someone was sort of “put on the spot” as an important question was asked and an answer was expected.  Pilate, for instance, early in a morning with not much advance time for thought, he asked a question: “What shall I do with Jesus, who is called The Christ?”  The crowd, whipped into a mad, frothing frenzy by “plants” who helped orchestrate the worst answer in history, bellowed out: “Let Him be Crucified!”  Pilate felt the heat, had to decide, and was left with no “wiggle room” and no doubt about who is being asked.

            You know the rest of the story. 

            Important questions.  Not a lot of options available, and time pressing for an answer.  So much at stake.  And there is no less at stake for us when we’re  faced with similar choices.  If we want to “come back” to Christ, and journey with Him, we need for our own sake to know that we love Him.  That we are willing to follow where He leads and do as He commands.   

            As we study the conversation, it seems to me a couple things are worth keeping in mind.  One is the seeming “coincidence” of Jesus posing the essentially same question three times.  You’ll remember Peter had denied Jesus three times. I’m not sure if that’s just a coincidence, or if Jesus attached subtle significance that Peter himself would have recognized right away. If it’s simply a “coincidence,” it’s certainly an interesting one.

            Another thing, which I feel we should keep in mind as we contemplate this conversation, is that the Greek language in which this conversation was recorded has four distinctly different words to express four distinctly different kinds or levels of love or affection. Only two are used here, but the choice of words seems deliberate and accurate to express the point.   When you see the conversation as John records it, Jesus asks His question using one word: the verb form of agape.  “Simon, Do you LOVE ME?  In response, Simon uses the verb form of the Greek word for friend, philos.  “Lord, I like you.  A lot. I might go even so far as to say you’re my very best friend!”

            Do you notice any change in Peter’s attitude at this point?  Where is the impulsive, cocky, self-assured Peter?  Has his “fall” perhaps taught him something about humility?  About his need (and ours) always to trust God to lead us correctly? There is another word for human affection, EROS (from which comes our word “erotic”). It usually connotes physical desire, or something similar to lust. It doesn’t deal exclusively with sexual desire, but it does infer that you love, like, or desire something or someone which makes you look or feel good. Isn’t this basically a selfish kind of affection?  I “like” you for what I can get out of the relationship.  PHILOS (from which we get our word “filial,” meaning “brotherly love.”  Philadelphia (the city of “brotherly Love” comes from a wedding of the words “Philos” and the Greek word for city, “Adelphos.”  That kind of love is one with which we can pretty easily identify.  It’s not exactly suggesting I like or love you unselfishly.  I’m willing to give, but I also expect to get something out of this relationship.  This is the word Peter uses as he replies to Jesus’ questions. “CHARITAS is about as close to “agape” as any human can come. Our word “charity” comes from the Greek word (Karitas), but we’ve worn the English word threadbare.  Most of us cannot help thinking of “charity” as an occasional gathering of stuff we don’t need, or wear any more or is worn out . . .  or out of style.  Plus, we could use a tax deduction.  As we’ve done in many other instances, over time we’ve ground down the sharp edges of some words, worn them out, or distorted their meaning.  “Charitas” is the word the Apostle Paul used in the thirteenth chapter his first letter to the young Church at Corinth.  The verb form for this word isn’t used in this conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter. 

 

             “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”  The word Jesus uses here is from agapao. “Agape.”  It is the kind love that is selfless.  No ulterior motives are beneath the surface; not even a response is demanded.    No conditions are attached.  I love you without a qualifying clause that asks: “what’s in it for me?”  When the word “agapo,” is used it usually means: “I love you the way God loves a sinner.  I love you in a way you can never, ever deserve.”  It seems to me that we can’t even respond correctly to God’s affection unless He enables that.  In my opinion, you and I can only love others as God enables us to do so.  “We love Him because He first loved us” doesn’t simply mean He loved us first.  It means we do not initiate the love, but can only respond to it.  Until we see ourselves as loved by God, and forgiven, I believe we cannot love any other as we ought.  We’ll make promises we cannot keep and perhaps have no intention of even trying.   We’ll always be expecting and demanding of others something they are unable to give . . . or something we do not really deserve or have no right to expect.   God takes the initiative.  We can only respond as He does that.  We can love Him, but we cannot love Him first.

            I also took a minute to think about what Jesus meant when He asked Peter “do you love me MORE THAN THESE?  More than these What?  Since we weren’t there on this occasion, we have no way of determining “what” is.  We can’t see gestures, or hear inflections.  Or see eye contact. Was Jesus asking Peter if he loved Jesus more than these (pointing perhaps to)  other disciples?  Peter had boasted as much.  Did Jesus perhaps gesture toward the boat, the sea, the way of life to which Peter was so accustomed.  His lifestyle.  His “security”?  All he knew and valued and held dear?  Is Jesus asking Peter if he loves those things more than he loves Jesus?

             Sometimes I don’t know the answers to some questions I ask.  I do know Jesus is pressing the point.  He doesn’t allow Peter to dismiss the question with an “off the cuff” answer.   Even though Peter seems caught off guard the first time he’s asked, and probably answers quickly, without much thought. . . Jesus re-presents the question.  Before Pete’s “comeback” was complete, that question had to be resolved.

            The answer to the question is critical.  It comes before being commissioned to “feed the sheep.”  It is so important for the success of any “comeback,” or any future mission, that it MUST BE ANSWERED.  “Do You Love me?”   A thoughtless, superficial “uh huh” won’t cut it!  Jesus knew what Peter would be facing.  He knew, apart from a deep, settled commitment, there’s no way he could endure what he would have to face in years to come.  There’d be no way he could serve effectively unless he really loved Jesus.   

            We aren’t really left with the option of just “liking Him.”  Thinking He’s a really interesting, unique Teacher fails to come to grips with Who He claims to be. You’re missing the profound meaning of the question if you don’t address His identity!

 

            Peter said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  Actually, he is saying I like you.  The Greek word used by Peter is ‘phileo.’  It means, “I like you.  A lot.  You’re a good friend.”  A “buddy.”  Peter didn’t use the same word Jesus had used.  But Jesus still said to him, “Feed My lambs.” Lambs, as you know, are baby sheep.  Jesus never forgot the “little ones.”

             The reason this seena  so important is that Jesus is in process of restoring Peter.  Assigning the most important task, showing confidence in the failed fisherman.  Putting him back on staff.  Giving him a responsible assignment. In my opinion, this is a milestone.  A cornerstone. It is fundamental in Peter’s restoration.  Jesus’ principal role in Scripture paints Him as the “Good Shepherd.”  So it seems logical that, as Peter affirms his love for Christ, the immediate consequence of that is: JESUS AFFIRMS CONFIDENCE IN PETER AND ASSIGNS HIM THE ROLE OF ‘UNDER-SHEPHERD!”  So we don’t miss the enormity of that, let me repeat: Once Peter says: “I love you to the best of my ability,”Jesus says: “Very well.  Now, carry on my work for me when I’m not here!”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”  (Same word.  Agape.) He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I like you”.  Peter just isn’t prepared to go that far.   He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”   This is the “Good Shepherd” speaking now, and the analogy seems to be so appropriate.  I get the impression that Jesus is saying: “ O. K.  I’ll meet you where you are, using your terminology, and as the ‘Good Shepherd,’ I want you to take care of my sheep.  Nothing complicated about that.  We’re not talking about brain surgery here, or astrophysics, or nuclear science. “I trust you, Peter.  I’m restoring you without recriminations or restrictions.  You aren’t on probation. I need you.  I’ve selected you for a task, and I’m confident you can carry it out. This is your simple, but very important assignment: Feed my sheep.”

             17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love I believe Jesus changes His word here.  Do you even like me? Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I REALLY like you.  

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”  I trust you, Peter.  I’m restoring you without recriminations or restrictions.  I need you.  I’ve selected you for a task, and I am confident you can carry it out.

             Can you imagine what that did to Pete’s confidence in himself?  What part do you think that would play in completing Peter’s comeback?  What a confidence builder!   How like Jesus that is to look past our failings and welcome us back into fellowship with Himself. 

            The comeback is complete!  Not one word has been said about the denial before the mock trial.  Peter did deny three times that he had any relationship with Jesus.  Jesus asked Pete the same question three times.  Perhaps it was coincidental.  Whether or not that is the case, Peter has come back.  And a gracious Lord Christ never once makes mention of his denial.

            My conclusion is this: Unless I really LOVE Jesus, it isn’t possible for me to do what He asks.  If I DO LOVE Him, feeding His sheep, following Him, obeying Him, is a logical, inevitable outcome.

         Other factors figured in his return, his “comeback,” but this incident clearly establishes in my way of thinking that Peter is back, and back in business! The restoration at this point is probably complete.  There is still the empowerment which is to come at Pentecost.  But from the time of this interview, you see an entirely different person.  A new man.  Peter is aware of his limitations and is no longer the impulsive, braggadocios “loose cannon.” He speaks boldly.  But he stays “on task.”  He remains faithful and fruitful until the last day of his life.

God’s servant, your friend, brother, and fellow student  ~donkimrey

 


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6 responses to “PLEASE ANSWER THE QUESTION

  1. I think the essence of Jesus’ three-fold questioning is that it follows up Peter’ three-fold denial.

    I’m personally not convinced that much can be gleaned from an analysis of the Greek in this passage. In that respect, I follow Leon Morris.

    Jesus spoke in Aramaic not Greek.

    (a) Aramaic, unlike Greek, doesn’t have a variety of words for love expressing different nuances. The word choice here is John’ choice not Jesus.

    (b) And the nuances are over-interpreted by many. Both agape and philein are interchangably in other key passages involving God’s love for us and our love for God.

  2. In “response” to Robert’s response, I believe almost everyone I’ve ever read who addressed the number “3” is in agreement that it had significance and a connection to the denial 3 times. On the subject of the language Jesus spoke, it also appears all agree it was Aramaic. However, He must have had at least some exposure to Hebrew, and John wrote his account in Greek, since it appears he was addressing a primarily Greek-speaking audience. As indicated in the post, I wasn’t there, so there’s no way of knowing gestures, inflections, eye contact, emotions which were exuded, or the reactions of anyone. Absent that information, we can’t really conclusively argue the point. Although not pretending to be a scholar or fluent in any language, I did read an interlinear version which uses the words as indicated. Good men often differ on matters such as this, scholars of equal ability and integrity. I’m happy to defer to those more scholarly, and seldom make dogmatic pronouncements. On the important issue, “The Question which deserves an Answer,” no one denied that Jesus asked the question three times…Obviously to get Peter’s focused attention and an answer which reflected what he felt down deep inside. And also, at any rate, once he answered, Jesus commissioned Peter immediately to “Feed My Sheep.” As I’ve said before, I don’t tell people what to think, but I’m so grateful that thoughtful, intelligent people hang out here on occasion and add to the effort. Robert: Thanks. Are you still dealing with 5-7 foot snow drifts? Are the Saint Bernards happy and warm? You know I pray for you in your important work and am grateful for your witness for Chrsit. ~don

  3. Okay, I’m confused. Whose interpretations are correct? Don’s? Marie’s? Robert Sutherland’s? I agree with Mr. Sutherland in that we tend to over-interpret things too death in this society.

    Mike

  4. Eh, no need for confusion. Jesus forgave Peter, graciously restored him as His disciple, and wanted to affirm that Peter truly loved Him. That’s all that matters.

    Beyond that, the rest is speculation.

    Robert – thanks for clearing that up re: Aramaic. I had wondered myself if that semantic difference actually came from the Aramaic discourse or not; evidently not. Doesn’t really matter. He loves us and wants us to love and follow Him – in any language.

  5. Just passing by.Btw, your website has great content!

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