The focus of a lot of [my] preaching on John 21:1-19 has been the somewhat uncomfortable exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter that takes place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We know it well. Three times, Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves Jesus. Three times, Peter replies in the affirmative. Three time, Peter is invited to care for the flock. This encounter is often lifted up as the restoration of Peter. After his three-fold denial of Jesus late Maundy Thursday and early Good Friday, we often read this text as Peter’s three-fold renunciation of that denial. This is Peter’s moment of redemption. If he was a Baptist seeking ordination, it is the charcoal fire story that he would tell as his salvation event.
This morning, however, I noticed something. John notes that this conversation happens “When they had finished breakfast.” Jesus, Peter, and the rest of the fishing crew had already shared a meal together. Remember back when Holy Week first started? The complaint levied by the religious authorities against Jesus was that he “ate with sinners and tax collectors.” The act of eating together in first century Judaism was a symbol of relationship, an act of intimacy. Clean and unclean didn’t share the common cup. They didn’t pass the broken bread around. They weren’t allowed to smear it in the same bowl of hummus. Yet, in Jesus’ kingdom, those food laws weren’t as important as the community that he was sent to establish. Clean and unclean were invited to share a meal because in the Kingdom of Heaven, clean and unclean are all made whole by God’s never-failing love.
So, what if Jesus and Peter sharing breakfast – breaking bread and picking meat from the same freshly caught fish – was actually Peter’s moment of restoration? What if all that back and forth that happens after, the thing that ultimately breaks Peter’s heart, is really just an exchange between two friends, one who was the leader, and one who will take that mantel shortly? What if that conversation is less moment of restoration and more Peter’s moment of ordination? What if the three-fold invitation to care for the flock is Jesus anointing Peter for his ministry?