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John 21

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Patience, Nathan and I finished our study of the resurrection narratives with John 21. The style of it made us feel like we were reading a film script. The time of day in the passage is early morning but it encourages you to picture a dramatic sunset and hear suspenseful music when Jesus asks Peter to “follow me”. The author is written in as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’. It is from his perspective that we view Jesus’ reproachment with Peter.

This central moment of forgiveness is debated between us. I pick up on Peter’s pain at being asked three times and suggest that this is Jesus setting a test for what is required for forgiveness to be safely offered. In contrast Nathan reminded us of God’s love and forgiveness as being abundant and immediate; instead, he viewed the dialogue as a repairing process that was not meant to test Peter but prepare him to be the rock upon which the Church would be built.

In John 21 Peter models in miniature the rites of passage Christians follow. He falls into the sea with baptismal undertones. He takes bread from Jesus before repenting and following Jesus despite the knowledge that it may lead him ‘where you do not want to go’. This example gives concrete structure to a post-resurrection life. What is more is that a theme of hospitality emerges in the way Jesus welcomes them to the shore and they share a simple breakfast of barbequed fish and bread. This is continued in Acts when those who were baptised by Peter ‘broke bread in their homes and ate together’ (Acts 2:46). It feels like the last Gospel leaves us with a narrative guide on how to be a Christian.

We also note how the fourth wall is broken in the final verses. The author speaks directly about the act of writing and how the text has limits:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25).

Acknowledging these limits seems like a disarming thing to do to those readers wanting more assurance from the text. This maps on to debates about the relationship between faith and reason. At some point the track ends and your left with what you have as opposed to a masterful crib sheet.

John 21 pushes the reader back out into the world with the suggestion that what goes unrecorded also holds significance. To aim for a totalising grip on the events of Jesus would be destructive. Indeed, our world is not set up to maintain such an approach to knowledge. It has to live with partiality and trust in testimony.

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