Tuesday, May 3, 2011

John 21: the passing of the shepherd's mantle

Nightime on the Sea of Galilee. Amid the rhythm of wind, wave and work, the men's thoughts turn to their teacher and lord, his brave death, and the strange events since. So much has changed, the men not least of all. Peter, humbled, but still a leader. Nathanael of Cana, hallowed site of the great wedding miracle. Thomas, without a doubt. The sons of Zebedee, no longer the vengeful Sons of Thunder. Together they work and wonder: what happens next? Then the teacher appears and another fish miracle happens and they share a meal with Jesus, for the last time on this earth.

And then, the passing of the shepherd's mantle. From the beginning the Good Shepherd has fed and protected the sheep. Now he must leave, and Peter must tend the flock. He somewhat painfully reminds Jesus that above all a shepherd must love Jesus. He also impresses on Peter that is he no longer a hired man free to go where he will. He must willingly be led to death with outstretched hands, dressed by another. Some traditions have Peter sent with hands bound to Rome with countless other Jews sold into slavery after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 72. It is a fact that Christians who refused to denounce Christ were wrapped in skins of goats and other animals and then fed to the lions in the arena. It is also a fact that the first 10 or so of the Bishops of Rome died martyr's deaths. Is this what Jesus predicts? Some day I will wade into the great cloud of witnesses, find Peter, and ask him myself. On the shores of Galilee, however, Peter knows no more than you or I do. But he knows is the Lord's command: "Follow me!"

John's gospel closes with a piece of literary hyperbole about how writing down everything Jesus did would result in more books than the world could hold. But - maybe not hyperbole. Now we see in part and know in part, but if everything Jesus did were known, how many science books could  be written about His mastery of the wind and waves and fish? How about a comprehensive chemistry book on turning water into wine? Or, turning nothing into the entire universe? This multi-volume set could be called "Genesis 1:1, Unabridged." How about the Acts of the Saints (ALL of them) describing every amazing grace of the Savior? Christian Book Distributors, eat your heart out.

I expect the list of books could go on literally into infinity. "We've no less days, to sing God's praise, than when we first begun."

What a blessing it has been to read and meditate over the gospels. The last time I read the gospels nonstop, I was struck by his powerful sense of his unique identity. This time, I have been struck by his refusal to compell any person to do anything, except by faith-led choice: "If any man be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me." Only the wind, waves and demons were commanded to obey.


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