By Rev Philomeno Kinera

John 21:1-19

While reflecting on today’s reading I recall what I learnt during my training – studies about historical and literary criticism. Often, we were reminded by Rev Dr John Salmon to remain true to the text and let the text speak for itself. Maintain the integrity and honesty.

This morning I am deconstructing the text and I will leave it in its own historical context.

What intrigues me is the dialogue between Jesus and peter.

“Do you love me?”

“Tend my sheep.”

 “Do you love me?”

 “Tend my sheep.”

  “Do you love me?”

   “Feed my sheep”

If someone were to ask me to do something repeatedly, I may develop the feeling of distrust.

I read a story about two guys who were good friends, the best of friends and one day they were walking along the seashore when they started to argue. The argument became so heated that John slapped Martin across the face. Martin didn’t retaliate. Instead he took a stick and wrote in the sand, ‘Today John slapped me.” They went off to the pub and over a few pints they made up.

A few days later they went for a swim in the sea. Martin’s foot became entangled in some seaweed and he couldn’t free himself. The sea was becoming rougher, and Martin began to panic. “Help!” he called, “I’m drowning!”

John, who was a particular strong swimmer, heard his friend’s cries for help and swam over to him. John disentangled Martin’s foot and then pulled his half-drowned friend safely back to the shore. When he had recovered, the grateful Martin found a hammer and a chisel and carved into a rock, ‘Today John saved my life.’

John was bewildered, and so he says to Martin, “After I struck you, you wrote about it on the sand but today you chiselled words on a rock. Why?”

Says Martin to John, “When someone hurts us, we should record it on sand where the winds of forgiveness can erase it. But when someone does something good for us it should be recorded in rock from which it can never be removed.”

Forgive, let the winds of forgiveness erase the sins of the past. Perhaps, sometimes we may find it hard to forgive and forget. We’re pretty good at holding on to our hurts. As for forgiving, well we know we really ought to; after all, if Jesus can forgive Peter, we ought to follow Jesus and do our best to forgive those who hurt us. Let the sands of time wash away the hurt and focus on the good stuff. Just forgive and forget.

Forgive and forget! Not that easy.  I can still remember while growing up my mom insisting that I say, “Sorry”.  I don’t know how many times I was coerced into telling my siblings that I was sorry or how many times they were coerced into saying “Sorry”. I could still recall all the horrible things we did to one another when we were kids. We haven’t forgotten. As I moved on in life, I haven’t forgotten the hurts others have inflicted on me along the way. I can still feel the pain of betrayals, intimidation and bulling. Nor have I forgotten the pain, which I have inflicted on others.

Once upon a time, I was taught to believe that forgiveness was something we simply had to do, as Christians better forgive them or else.

Forgive and forget. “If you love me.” You’ll be just like Jesus who loved Peter so much that he forgave him the unforgivable betrayal.

Once, twice, three times. Peter denied Jesus.  Jesus forgives Peter. Or does he? The text does not indicate that.

We have heard this story so many times that we assume that Jesus forgives Peter the unforgivable. If you want to follow Jesus you too will forgive, forget about it. Move on.

And while saying we are sorry is as good a place as any to begin the healing process, there are times when the pain of our betrayal is too deep for us to bear and the very act of saying that we are sorry is beyond our reach. There are also times when if asked to accept an apology, the pain of being betrayed is so raw that we cannot even entertain the idea of accepting an apology.

Forgiveness is not the end-all and be-all of healing. Healing is a complex process that takes all sorts of shapes and forms. If we let Easter’s resurrection story touch us, we may not be surprised that Peter, never asks Jesus to forgive him, but it may shock us to hear that in this story, Jesus may not actually forgive Peter and as for forgetting, well listen to what Jesus says:

“Simon the son of John,” not Simon Peter, not Peter the Rock, but Simon the son of John, a simple fisherman, “Do you love me more than these?”

Sure says, Peter, you know that I’m your friend.

Are you kidding me? How can Peter expect anyone to believe that he is a friend? With friends like Peter who needs enemies? Peter ought to be on his knees begging for forgiveness. Once more Peter is in denial. “You know that I’m your friend.”

Prove it says Jesus: “Feed my lambs. Do you love me?”

Again, Peter just can’t help himself, “Yes Rabbi, you know that I’m your friend.”

Again, Jesus responds, “Tend my sheep.” Do something; if you are my friend prove it.

“Simon son of John, do you love me as a friend would?”

Peter is hurt because Jesus asked a third time and so Peter goes on the defensive.

“You know everything don’t you Rabbi. You know that I am your friend.”

Prove it. Jesus drives home his point. “Feed my sheep. Follow me.”

The hurt hasn’t gone away.  The struggle continues. Two friends locked in a wrestling match of their own. Struggling to find reconciliation. The work of forgiveness is ongoing.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodied a new way of being in the world.

Faced with the pain and hurt of life under an oppressive regime, Jesus could have taken up arms or demanded retribution. But he chooses a different path; a way of being that embodies Love.

Do you love me Simon, ben-John?

You can begin by caring for those I care for.

You can begin by feeding those I love.

You can begin by loving.

The healing will begin not by forgiving; forgiveness will come out of the love we share for one another. In that love we may never forget. We may not forget the pain. In our pain we shall seek to embody love, imperfect, struggling, love.

The stories which have been handed down to us about Jesus illustrate that LOVE.

I am not saying that forgiveness is not an important and precious gift which has the power to change lives. I’m just saying that forgiveness is not the be-all and end-all that it has been portrayed to be.  Jesus may have gotten past Peter’s betrayal.

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?




Feed my lambs.

Care for those I care for.

Love those I love.

For in loving them you love me. LOVE is the be-all and end-all. Forgiveness is not the end we seek. Forgiveness is a by-product of the work of LOVE.

LOVE that was embodied in Jesus and continues to live in, with, though, and beyond us, LOVE that lies at the heart of reality, LOVE that permeates life.

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