I’d like to try something new. I’m not sure if I’ve got nearly enough commenters on this blog, or if enough of them are former or current Christians. But hopefully we can get started. I want to think about the rather odd passage in John 21:15-17, where a ressurrected Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and each time, when Peter agrees that he does, Jesus tells him some variation on ‘feed my sheep’.
The passage is:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
— John 21:15-17 (NIV)
I haven’t used my translation of this. I’m using the NIV translation because I don’t want to introduce my bias onto the text at this point (although I did select the translation to use, so I’m not entirely innocent).
So the question I want us to answer is this: what does this mean? What is Jesus saying, what are the significant elements to the story? Is there an explanation of why it is in this format (why three times, why sheep, why Peter emphasizes Jesus’s knowledge, why love, why ‘Simon son of John’, etc). No explanation will cover more than one or two of these features, but I’m interested to see the gamut of interpretations.
Please add in the comments, but can I ask you to state carefully whether your response is a personal intepretation, or one you’ve been taught (if the latter, can you say where: a sermon, a bible study, sunday school). You can add as many comments as you like with as many interpretations.
Anyone is welcome to contribute and your intepretations will not be ridiculed (not by me, anyway – comments are always free to disagree). There is no correct answer I’m looking for, and I don’t have any bombshell to undermine the text. You don’t need to know the original greek, or be a bible scholar or theologian. Simple explanations are as welcome as complicated ones. I am curious because I know of several different ways of reading this passage, and I suspect there may be many, many more. If you are a believer and lurk here, please contribute.