Paul Appleby is the pastor of Central Christian Church in Columbus, GA. He is a devoted husband, and father of three.
" Jesus said to them, 'Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.' Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.' None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, 'Who are you?' They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, 'Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'
Simon replied, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'
Jesus asked a second time, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'
Simon replied, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Take care of my sheep.'
He asked a third time, 'Simon son of John, do you love me?'
Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, 'Do you love me?' He replied, 'Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'"- John 21:10-19 CEB
My Grandma Appleby was a fascinating woman. She wasn't one for long conversations. I can't ever recall her coming to my T-Ball games as a kid. In fact, the only two places I vividly remember her were on her chair in the living room, or working in the kitchen. You see, this was a woman who could COOK. I don't mean she made a mean hamburger helper. I mean she cooked in the way that people used to: long, low, slow.. to paraphrase Alton Brown, her kung-fu was righteous. She and my Grandpa raised a family of six back in the times before microwaves and convenience food. She spent hours, sometimes days, shucking corn, shelling peas, making her own jams and jellies, cooking up cakes and pies and all sorts of amazing foods. Come Christmas time her house was filled, wall to wall, with cookies. Grandma Appleby showed her love through her food. Heck, when I was an infant (I am told) she even used to break up Hershey's Kisses with a small spoon and feed the shavings to me. The woman even made her own dill pickles that were nearly a religious experience. In response to a love (and an amazing culinary gift) like that, I can report to you that my first word was not "mama" or "dada" (much to the chagrin of my parents) it was "pickle."
This was a woman who understood the profound connection between loving someone and feeding them. While she was with us, her kitchen was always a flurry of activity as she worked to stock the two storage freezers out back, and the root cellar with every delicacy imaginable. She passed in 1995, but before she went on into God's great kingdom, she prepared and stored enough food that my Grandpa was still eating her cooking up till he went on to join her, five years later, in 2000. Maybe that's why my father started taking cooking classes. Maybe that's why after I finish writing this reflection I will go back to what I do every Wednesday, and will join my wife as we prepare a midweek supper for our congregation. Maybe that's why this story resonates with me like it does.
In this story from John, Jesus' final appearance to his disciples is recorded for our sake. It's a story, not of his overcoming death (that was already conveyed in the last chapter), but of how we are to live our shared life together. Here, Jesus shows love for his disciples on a primal level. He sees them hard at work, he helps them, then beckons to them to join him on the shore where he prepares a meal for them. In doing so the risen Christ fed his hungry disciples both spiritually and physically. The themes of food and love even dominate the discussion with Simon that marks the end of our reading.
Throughout the Gospel, Simon Peter serves not only as one of Christ's disciples, but as the archetype of all Christians who would follow him in their journeys with the Lord. Here, Christ tells him that the way in which to show his love for him is through caring for his (Jesus') lambs (i.e. Peter's brothers and sisters in Christ). This link between the love of God and neighbor runs deep in the writings of John- finding an echo in 1 John 4:21, "This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also." It is in following the commandment we have from him, in sharing our love for God with our brothers and sisters in real, physical, tangible ways that we bear testimony both to our love for God and to God's love for us.
Yesterday I came across an interesting post on r/Christianity. In it, an atheist who had subscribed to this subreddit stated in an open letter why he was leaving it. It was not because anyone had been unkind to him. Quite to the contrary, this atheist stressed the communities kindness and understanding for those who did not bear the name of Christ. No, his reason for leaving was the way those in the community treated one another (For those interested, you can see BabyHooey's comments here). His observations reminded me of that famous quote from Fr. Brennan Manning, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." We, as Christians, show that we have fundamentally misunderstood the charge of the risen Christ to Simon Peter, and by way of Peter to all of us. We are to feed our own, not eat them.
It isn't too late to change, though. Our God is a God of not only second, and third, but four hundred ninetieth chances. In our text, Christ asks Peter, the same Peter who denied him three times, if he loved him three times. This is no mere coincidence. Christ gave Peter the opportunity to right his earlier betrayal and to voice his love. Not only that, but Jesus told him that beyond voicing it he should show it through his love for his brothers and sisters demonstrated in the simple, concrete, and primal act of feeding them. Now you'll have to excuse me. It's about 11:30, supper is at 6:00 and we have a lot of cooking to do.
"We will work with each other. We will work side by side.