Church of Peter's Primacy, Israel
Church of Peter’s Primacy, Israel

 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.” – John 21:15 (CEB)


As I mentioned in A Simple Act of Hospitality, I was reading John 21 with a friend last week. A favorite of both of ours, she commented how you could spend a week (and probably longer) just reading this passage.  In the past, my reading of this passage focused on the reconciliation of Peter. This event, and Peter as the rock on which the church is built (Matthew 16:18), is celebrated by a church in Israel called Peter’s Primacy. It sits on a lovely, quiet edge of the Sea of Galilee just north of Tiberias and south of Capernaum.

Looking towards Mt. Arbel and the pass to Nazareth from Peter's Primacy, Israel
Looking towards Mt. Arbel and the pass to Nazareth from Peter’s Primacy, Israel

This was one of my favorite places on my pilgrimage, both because of its beauty and its scriptural history. But in this reading of John 21, a new question came to me:

 What if John 21 was the Great Commission?


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.” – John 21:16 (CEB)

You know the Great Commission as we have named Matthew 28:16-20. It is our call to disciple, baptize, and teach. This is certainly something we should do. I love discipling and teaching – and soon baptizing will be a defining part of my vocation as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. BUT…there are so many ways for us to live this out. And I wonder if we have been a little misguided.

While I know it’s not universally true, how the Church has generally lived out the Great Commission has been from a position of power or “better than.” (I’m an educated white girl from the suburbs, so I include myself, please bear with me for just a little bit). The Great Commission has been about something we do to people. We could easily disciple, baptize and teach obedience without ever being in relationship with our new brother or sister in Christ. But reading the Gospels, I don’t think Jesus meant it this way.

Or at least this wasn’t how Jesus did it.

When we are the ones “doing” all of these things “to” others, we are not recognizing the individual circumstances of their lives. We are not hearing their story – and how God is already working in their lives – and joining it with our story. We don’t recognize our own continued need to be discipled, to learn, and ongoing process of living into our baptismal vows in the changing seasons of our lives. We assume we know the needs of others.


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 21:17 (CEB)

Three times Jesus tells Peter that if he loves him, “Feed my sheep.” I think Jesus was serious. The Greek words used for “feed” and “take care” are words of tending. When used as a noun, they refer to the herdsman and shepherd. Jesus wasn’t just telling Peter to drop some food off at the local pantry. Jesus was telling Peter to hang around with the people he fed and tended. Get to know them, love them, be loved by them. Our lives should be joined and we will even start to smell like each other. The welfare of one is united with the welfare of the other. And Jesus sums it up with a final command: After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” – John 21:19b (CEB) Or in other words, “Do as I have done.”

What if this was the Great Commission Jesus gave the Church? How would our congregations and programs and budgets look different? What changes would we need to make in our daily lives in who we spend time with and how we use our resources?  What if the simple act of hospitality Jesus offered Peter and the other disciples on the shore that morning was the Great Commission?

Feed my sheep and follow me. 

On the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Peter's Primacy, Israel
On the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Peter’s Primacy, Israel

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One Thought to “Commissioned”

  1. […] mouth. This is the sister passage to John 21 that I wrote about in A Simple Act of Hospitality and Commissioned. It’s a little long but hopefully you find it worth the […]

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