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Do You Love Me?

Date: 14/04/2013/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Jn 21:1-19
21:1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
21:2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”
21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
21:7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.
21:8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
21:9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
21:16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
21:18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
21:19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

For those of you who have attended church for a while, you would have heard at least 1 sermon based on this passage. Some of you might recall something about the Greek words used for love when Jesus asked Simon Peter “Do you love me.” For those of you who have not heard it before, the first two times Jesus asks Peter, the word that is translated as love is agape – but Peter replies with a different word – phileo. When Jesus asks Peter the third and final time, instead of using agape, he uses phileo as well. There are many interpretations to the difference – but all of them agree that Jesus and Peter are finally in synch.

This passage is also often referred to as the restoration of Peter – the three times he is asked “do you love me” was to counterbalance the three times he denies Jesus.

I often preach on how things mean more than what they seem in the Bible, and Jesus often taught through symbols and metaphors. But today, i want to look at it just as it is.

Have you finished your homework? Yes, I have. Have you finished your homework? Yes, i have. Have you finished your homework? Yes! i already finished my homework!!!

Are there times when someone asks you a question three times? Rarely right? But when that happens why did that person ask you three times? Besides not hearing your reply – what other reasons are there?

We asks a question again when we are not convinced about the answer.

At the beginning of this passage, what was Simon Peter going to do? He was going to go fishing. We don’t know if he was going to go fishing so they may get some to eat, or he was going back to fishing – since Simon Peter was a fisherman before.

I think that very often in life, we fall back to old habits and things that are familiar to us. It is the easy thing to do. Comfortable. After all, what we are familiar with, we have done often and regularly enough.

I wonder if Simon Peter here is returning to something familiar, something he is comfortable with, to avoid doing something new, something unfamiliar, something he may be afraid of.

Then Jesus appears to the Disciples. What was he there to do? To restore Peter? To remind Peter what he is called to do?

Sometimes we need to be reminded when we return to old habits and our comfort zone. I am always reminded that preaching isn’t to make the congregation feel comfortable. It is always to shake things up so you all feel discomfort with the status quo, and you feel the need to change things.

Last Sunday, Rev Yap preached – and oh man, did he preach. “From the Attic, to Yangtze, Geylang and now One Commonwealth”

Commonwealth to most of us is a neighbourhood in Singapore. The name of a MRT station. Some of us may think of Commonwealth as the Commonwealth of Nations – an organization of 54 states, of which Singapore is a member. But Commonwealth – and its meaning – lies very close to the Gospel message. It is counter-Empire. It is the opposite of the Empire that Jesus challenged.

The idea of empire is simple. It expresses the desire to add to one’s wealth and to dominate over others. The ideology assumes that if one group is able to exert its will over others, then it is superior to them and has the right to exploit them. Empires use whatever means – violence, coercion, and the more insidious way of buying people’s hearts – to maintain control and domination.

The Roman Empire crucified Jesus. He was a threat. What he taught was dangerous.

Jesus thought of a different Kingdom – the Kingdom of God. basilea theou – John Cobb Jr. prefers the Greek phrase basilea theou because the English translation clouds our understanding with other connotations. Like how we use agape because “love” means so many different things that agape is more precise when we want to talk about the love that is in today’s passage.

John Cobb Jr., professor emeritus of Theology at the Claremont School of Theology, proposes that a better English translation may be “commonwealth.”

This term besides not emphasizing the controlling power of a ruler, suggests that the realm may be organized by the common good. What is Jesus understanding of the basilea theou, the commonwealth of God to be like? “It is a world where God’s will is done, God’s purposes are fulfilled. Jesus saw his own work and the community that developed around him as foreshadowing that sort of world. It was characterized by the healing of the sick, the release of prisoners, and freeing people from guilt. The thirsty receive water, the hungry are fed, and the naked are clothed. To come into the fellowship that foreshadows the commonwealth of God, the rich must share their wealth. in that fellowship, boundaries that separate people are erased. Sinners, that is people who do not fulfill the law – eat with those who do. Loving relations supersede obedience to law as the character of the commonwealth.”

John Cobb Jr also points out:

All three of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – locate the proclamation of the basileia theou at or near the outset of Jesus’ public ministry. In Luke’s account, when the crowds tried to keep Jesus in Capernaum to continue his healing ministry there, he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the basileia theou to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (4:43). Mark writes: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled and the basileia theou is come near; repent and believe in the good news'” (1:14-15) Matthew states that after Jesus settled in Capernaum, he “began to proclaim, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near'” (4:17)

We know this. We know what we should be doing. At least, we have some idea of what we should be doing. It is inconvenient, it is difficult, it is sometimes dangerous, it is always costly to us in some way.

Jesus appears to the disciples numerous times between his resurrection and his ascension. Why? Because we human beings often fall back to our old habits and familiar ways. Because we human beings need to be reminded ever so often what we should be doing, what we need to do. Because we human beings take things for granted.

The sad thing about life is this – we are more often than not concerned with our own well-being, not others. It is only when we think we have enough, then we seek out the well-being of others. That’s the Empire. Because it is rare that we think we have enough. Because that little charity we do helps us feel less guilty about being a participant of the Empire.

But that’s not Commonwealth of God. The ways of the world are not our ways.

Last week, Judge Quentin Loh upheld 377A. Many of us are disappointed. I read with much concern though that there is an air of resignation and despair with many of the responses I have come across on Facebook, and in my conversations with people. I am even more concerned that many people in the LGBT community couldn’t care less. “It doesn’t affect me.”

“It doesn’t affect me, because I can still live the life I live. I can still go on my vacations to Taipei for the New Year, to Bangkok for Songkran. I can still go to the gay bars, the gay clubs. I can still enjoy the life I am living.”

That is the mentality of the Empire. “It expresses the desire to add to one’s wealth and to dominate over others.” It is living a life centered on the self. I am the center of the universe.

Something that doesn’t affect us doesn’t mean that it is right. Doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do anything about it.

Jesus’s Commonwealth of God, the basileia theou, is the opposite. It is a realm that seeks salvation of all, rather than just the salvation of the self. It is a realm where everything is ordered towards the common good, not the good of the few.

I wonder – if 377A did get repealed last week, would we have fallen back to old habits and familiar things, and settle back into our comfort zone? Will we stop there, or will we continue to participate in championing the rights of other minorities, speaking up for the voiceless?

We are now in the season of Easter, the time between Resurrection and Pentecost. We are now in the time between Geylang and One Commonwealth.

And we are asked:

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

And Jesus said, “Follow me.”