Having read the resurrection accounts in all four gospels, it strikes me that John shows us so much more of the personal side of Jesus’ meetings with his friends after he rises from the tomb.
There’s the beautiful scene with Mary Magdalene in the garden, where the sound of his familiar voice speaking her name cuts through her distraught tears to bring overwhelming joy.
Then Thomas, so much maligned for not believing what he so desperately wanted to be true – that Jesus was alive – until he had the evidence of his own eyes. Yet once Thomas was convinced (and he didn’t need to put his fingers in the wounds, as he’d said he would) he burst out with the great realisation, ‘My Lord and My God.’ Far from being lost in doubt, I think Thomas needed more convincing because he understood better than the others what it would mean were this true – that Jesus was more than a Rabbi.
Then, at the end of chapter 20, I’m sure that the original gospel ends with a statement of purpose –
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)
– which does lead me to ask this. If for any reason you haven’t yet made up your mind about Jesus, it may be time to do so! If it would help do send me a message.
But then the gospel continues, with chapter 21 as a kind of appendix probably written after the death of the apostle John, telling one more story of the resurrection. And it’s a beautiful one.
It’s a story full of echoes. First of all, it’s back where Jesus first called Peter and his colleagues to become fishers of men. The situation is similar, as again they’ve been fishing all night without success, only to have a marvellous catch when they follow Jesus’ instructions.
Simon Peter is at the heart of the story with Jesus. Do look at how those two names are used. Simon was his name before he met Jesus – Peter his name as a disciple and apostle. I won’t say more, but read the chapter looking for which name is used when.
There’s another echo. Why does John mention that the fire on the beach was charcoal? Have a look back to the last time a charcoal fire was mentioned – John 18:18. Peter is being taken back to the moment he betrayed Jesus. Then, three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. The first time recalls Peter’s boast at the Last Supper, that even if all the others fled he would stay loyal. ‘Do you love me more than these?’ And Peter, ashamed of his boasting, will only answer that he loves Jesus. Twice more, Jesus asks and Peter declares his love. It hurts.
Jesus doesn’t need to hear Peter say ‘I love you’ three times. But Peter needs to say it three times. It’s no good pretending that he hasn’t messed up. He knows it, and he knows that Jesus knows it. The three questions take him back to the scene of his failure, and deal with it. Then it’s enough. Just like he did at the beginning, Jesus just says ‘Follow me’.
When we confront our sin, our failings, with God honestly and openly, then we find forgiveness and a new start. But the honesty needs to be there for it to make any difference to us.
Then there’s a final detail. As Jesus and Peter walk along the shore, in restored friendship, John follows. And Peter asks ‘what about him?’ Jesus’ answer is, essentially, ‘don’t worry about John. Follow me.’ Peter is called to be Peter, and let John get on with being John. It’s true of all life, and especially of discipleship. As soon as we start comparing ourselves to anyone else, we lose sight of Jesus. He calls you to be you, and me to be me. We each have our own path of discipleship to walk, and sometimes we’ll meet on the path. But we’ll walk at different speeds and sometimes in different directions. So long as we’re both answering the call of Jesus ‘Follow me’ then that’s fine.