Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
What do these last words between Jesus and Peter, as recorded in John’s Gospel, convey to us about where our committed following of Jesus may lead us?
After being fed by Jesus, when Peter had been trying to gather food with some of the disciples, Jesus had probed Peter’s conscious devotion to him as well as his spontaneous affection (using two different words for love). And as the conversation progressed Jesus had charged him with responsibilities to feed the little ones and govern the older ones who would need the shepherd’s care (again using two different words for the members of his flock, and two different words for how to look after them). Then Jesus had made clear that Peter would eventually be bound and led away to a death which would nevertheless glorify God, if he followed him in this way.
So, in today’s reading, Peter looked round at the other followers that he should be concerned for, and saw one that he knew Jesus particularly loved and had been able to share the distress of impending betrayal with, and had given a special responsibility: to look after his mother, Mary. Peter asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus replied, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’
This seems to imply that we should not worry about what our own and each other’s ultimate end will be. The important thing is what we do between now and then. Whether our response to Jesus is the strong emotion of friendship, or a considered decision of esteem and duty, or accepting his unexpected call to a job, what matters is to follow Jesus, and leave the ends of our lives in his hands.
Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow thee more nearly, day by day. (attributed to Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253)
The Rev’d Bernie Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St. Andrew’s URC, Southampton