Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times? In part it could be because as Jesus was heading to the cross Peter denied him three times. But I wonder sometimes if wasn’t because Peter wasn’t really listening not only to what Jesus was saying but what he meant. Have you ever noticed with kids that there are a lot of things you have to say more than once for the point to sink in. I know I’ve noticed it with my kids and sometimes it happens with adults too. We hear the words but not their meaning.
Imagine the story this way. After the first Easter Sunday morning, the disciples are at a loss. They have no idea what to do. Jesus said that he was coming back but the when and how they did not know. He’d appeared to them in that closed upper room but since then nothing. Not a word. So Peter says the others, “Come on boys lets go fishing.” Which is just another way of saying lets go back to what we know, back to something familiar. They were in that boat fishing all night and they’d caught nothing. Which only serves to make and already hard time worse than it was before. As the dawn breaks they are heading back to the shore, when a voices calls, “You’re fishing on the wrong side, drop you nets on the other one.” And for whatever reason they do just that and now their nets are so full they are breaking.
Peter only knows one person who can do and say something like that. Jesus. He jumps into the water and rushes to the shore. Without much fuss, Jesus invites the rest of the disciples to join them for a meal of broiled fish on the beach. Then Jesus pulls Peter aside and says, “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter says, “Oh, Jesus, this is great. What are we going to do now? What did ask? Do I love you, of course I do. So tomorrow we’ll put all the fishing gear away and get back on the road. Love you? You know I love you.
Then Jesus grabs Peter by the shoulders and says, “Peter, Simon son of John, do you love me?” And finally it sinks in. “Yes, Lord I love you.” And Jesus says for the third time, “Then feed my sheep.” And then Peter knows that it is his turn to do what Jesus was doing in the world. All those great “I am” statements that are scattered throughout John’s gospel – I am the bread of life; I am true vine, I am the good shepherd.” Discipleship means being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. In the poem Peter’s Testimony from the Iona Community Peter reflects on Jesus words, “Then feed my lambs, and feed my lambs and feed my sheep. And then I realized that he had fed us so that we could feed others and that he loved us so that we could love others the same way.” (Stages on the Way page 211).
We catch of someone doing just that in our reading from Acts. It is a healing story but it is also a discipleship story. Two important things about this story Dorcas or Tabitha is called a disciple. Yes a woman who is a disciple just like Peter. It says in Acts she was devoted to good works and charity. She had two names one Greek Dorcas and one Hebrew Tabitha so she is a who travelled widely in both Jewish and gentile circles. Dorcas the disciple who did so much in the community of widows and orphans died. Peter was called and when he arrived, the widows she cared for wept as they showed him all the clothing and Dorcas had made for them. Clothing was precious because people did not have a lot of it.
Dorcas was a woman who lived the words, “Feed my sheep” with her good deeds and charity just a Peter did. Jesus says to all of us, “Do you love me?” Then feed my lambs. It can seem like a daunting task and maybe one we will never get quite right. But what matters most is trying daily striving to help other with acts of kinds, volunteering with outreach agencies and supporting groups who advocate for a better life for every member of the community.
On the beach that day so long ago Jesus pulled Peter aside and asked, “Do you love?” Today Jesus pulls each one of us aside and says, “Do you love me? Then feed my lambs.” Pause, “Do you love me? Then feed my lambs.” Pause. “People of Cochrane Street United Church do you love me? Then feed my sheep. Amen.