As we near the culmination of the Easter Season with the celebration of Pentecost this Sunday, our reading of the Gospel of John comes full circle. Just as Jesus began his public ministry in John’s Gospel with an invitation to "follow me," so this portion near the end of John’s Gospel again repeats the invitation of Jesus to all to "follow me."
At first, the invitation in John’s Gospel is a rather mysterious one because the disciples (and the reader) are not quite sure what that invitation really means. What does it mean to follow Jesus? What is the relationship of the disciple to the master? What does it cost and how do I have to change?
However, by the time we reach the end of the Gospel, the disciples (and the reader as well) know the answers to these pivotal questions. If you follow Jesus you will not only witness to the Kingdom of God in word and deed, but as a result you too will have to suffer shame, humiliation, calumny and lastly death. But that is not the end. The end is ultimately victory; the end is ultimately Life!
To emphasize this truth, the dialogue that follows between Jesus and Peter is key. In a sense the dialogue is meant not just to be between Jesus and Peter but also, and perhaps more importantly, between Jesus and the reader.
As Peter previously denied his Lord three times, so Jesus asks Peter now to reaffirm his commitment to him three times. He asks Peter (and us): "Do you love me more than these?" Scholars continue to wonder what the "these" refers to…were they the other disciples? Were they Peter’s fishing boats–symbolic of his life as fisherman? Were they Peter’s family or friends? No matter. Peter makes clear in his three-fold response that he is now more than prepared to truly follow Jesus. Peter knows clearly the risk, the cost, and ultimately the surrender that Jesus is asking of him. As Jesus makes clear to him by way of metaphor, Peter no longer belongs to himself, but rather to God.
As we wait once more the Church’s celebration of the gift of the Spirit, let’s reflect on this Easter season and what it has meant in our lives. Are we any closer to Jesus? Are we more willing than we were 50 days ago to surrender our lives and our loves to Him and His Kingdom? What does it really mean to us to hear the voice of Jesus echo throughout the centuries…"Follow me."
Patrick Quinn ([email protected]) is the director of Planned Giving at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.