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.’ 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.’ 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. 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.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Reflection Yesterday we heard how the disciples physically sustained the community that had drawn together around Jesus and continued to live together past Jesus’ resurrection. And as Jesus sat down for breakfast with disciples who had gone fishing, we were reminded of the physical and spiritual feeding that so often went hand-in-hand as Jesus sat with his disciples. Yet do we see these acts of feeding in or as part of our calling as church communities or personally?
In these four verses of John’s gospel, there is no ignoring the reconciliation between Jesus and Peter after Peter’s denial of Jesus. In response to the three denials, there are three proclamations of Peter’s love for Jesus. Across these three exchanges, Peter found forgiveness, saw his relationship with Jesus restored and heard again the call. The call, however, was not just to follow; it was also to feed. And as we saw from Peter’s act of ‘going fishing’, this was not only a call to provide spiritual feeding, but it was also a call to physically feed the people. Peter was to ensure those who would follow Jesus were nourished body, mind and soul.
In Bromley United Reformed Church, since 2006, there has been a project called the 5000 Project. Its focus before the Pandemic was the physical nourishment of the most vulnerable in society—those without a place to call home. Yet, over the years in a quiet way, through the relationships forged, there was spiritual nourishment too of both those who came to be served and those who served. Since the Pandemic, with other agencies having taken on the services the project provided, the question is now being asked, “who is God calling us to feed and how?” There is still the call to physically feed people, but there is also a strong sense of call to provide spiritual nourishment. And this is not something to be done by only one person, but by the whole community.
Prayer Jesus said: Humanity cannot live on bread alone, the Word of God must also nourish. Lord God, you call us to enable this: to provide for those who are hungry in body, mind and soul. Help us to serve those in need— physically and spiritually— as we serve each other as your people together through Jesus Christ, the one who provides nourishment and sustains it by the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Elaine Colechin, Minister, Bromley United Reformed Church and St Mark’s United Church, Greenwich