The Bible

 

John 21:15-25 : Feed my lambs, Feed my sheep

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15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?

21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

    Study the Inner Meaning

Commentary

 

An After-Breakfast Conversation

     

By Joe David

This inscription is on a stone at the church hall in South Ronaldsey, in the Orkneys, northeast of Scotland.

(A commentary on John 21:15-25)

In the first part of this chapter, seven of the Lord's disciples had come home to Galilee. They had gone fishing, seen Jesus on the shore, followed his instructions to fish on the right side of the boat, dragged a net loaded with 153 fish to shore, and... as the second half of the chapter begins, they have just finished breaking their fast with Him. Now they are relaxing.

Jesus says to Peter,"Do you love me?" and Peter, perhaps a little startled at the question, thinking that the answer is obvious, answers "yes", and Jesus responds, "Feed my lambs". Twice more this sequence is repeated, but with some changes. Then, after this unusual conversation, the Lord tells them all a little parable about being young and later being old. Then the Lord tells Peter to follow him, and Peter, apparently jealous, asks what John is supposed to do. The Lord mildly rebukes Peter’s jealousy by saying, "If this man tarry until I come what is that to you?", but then He tells John also to follow him.

Finally, the gospel of John, and indeed the collection of all four gospels, closes with an explanation by John that he is the writer of this gospel.

So now, let’s look more closely at the conversation, the parable, and the outbreak of jealousy.

Only two of the seven disciples, Peter and John, are mentioned in this part of the story. Peter represents faith, or truth, but truth about spiritual things that we really believe are from God. John represents good, or love to the neighbor. The former resides in the understanding part of the mind and the latter in the will part of the mind.

In telling Peter to feed His sheep, the Lord is saying that to follow Him means to preach the truths that all the disciples now know about the Lord, His coming, and about how a life should be led, in order to be a follower of the Lord in a new church. In the conversation the Lord is direct and probing. "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" I think Peter is being asked whether he loves the Lord, Jesus, more than he loves his fellow Galilean friends, though it’s ambiguous, it could mean "do you love me more than these other six do?’ When Peter answers the first time he says "Lord thou knowest that I love thee."

With this first of the three probing questions, the Lord answers "Feed my lambs," while after that the response is "Feed my sheep." Sheep and lambs both represent people who are in a love of doing good, but while sheep means those who love to do good for the sake of the neighbor, lambs mean those who do good for the sake of the Lord. The first is spiritual good, and the second is higher, and is called celestial good. But people who wish to do good at first don’t know what is good; they need to learn that from the Word and be taught. This is why Peter is told to "feed them", which is to say that truth must indicate how good is to be done. In order to do things that are good, the will's wanting to, and the understanding's knowing how to go about it, must be conjoined. For a successful Christian life, or on a larger scale, a Christian church, 'Peter' and 'John' must work in harmony.

Then comes the parable. "When you were young you got yourself ready and did what you wanted on your own. But when you become old, you have to reach out for help and another shall carry you where you don’t want to go."

This doesn’t seem to fit in here, but of course it does, and in two ways. The first way is given in the Biblical text; it is about the Lord’s death, that all the prophecies were leading Him to His crucifixion, as is mentioned. The second way is a lesson for all of us. When we are young, confident, and strong, we feel that we can do what we want and don’t need any help. Temptations to do evil we ourselves can deal with. But when we grow wiser we realize that all our strength comes from the lord, and if we continue to depend only on ourselves, the temptations from the hells will be too strong and we will be led into doing what the hells want for us, not what we want. We must learn at the start to follow the Lord and depend on Him. This he says at the end of the parable, where it seems not to fit until we understand the parable. "And when He had spoken this He saith unto (them), follow Me." That’s what we need to do also.

Peter is happy to do this preaching of the truth and maybe feels that he has been singled out, but he also realizes that John also loves the Lord and is loved in return. So he asks "And what is this man supposed to do?" It seems that the needed harmony is not yet present, and that Peter is jealous of the bond, and probably hopes to be assured that he is number one... but that doesn’t happen. Peter is simply told that it doesn’t matter; he needs to do the job he has been given.

I’m reminded of the story of Jacob and Esau, in Genesis 25, where Esau is the firstborn and will inherit the birthright and blessing from Isaac, as his due. Jacob by craft devised by his mother deceives Isaac and steals what is Esau’s. Then he runs off to Padan-Aram and stays there with his uncle and becomes rich. It is only on his return journey that he wrestles with the angel and has his name changed to Israel, that he again meets Esau. The change of name means that now that Jacob is rich with truth from the Word, now with the friendly meeting with Esau, also rich, that the two twins can in parable, be merged into one personage, called Israel, meaning the joining of good and truth in the mind.

Esau means something similar to John, they both represent goodness or true charity. Jacob means something similar to Peter, they both represent truth learned from the Word. Any seeming enmity between them as to which is more important can make them both useless, and in a person who is becoming angelic (as everyone should be aiming for), there is no enmity. Truth enables good, and good inspires truth in order to get something done. Although we can think and speak of them separately, they are (perfectly in the Lord and less so in angels) conjoined into a oneness so as to be seen as married. The marriage of the Lord's Divine good and Divine truth is the origin of all creation. Yes, all creation.

This marriage of good and truth, and the need for both to work in our lives, in balance and harmony, is a core New Christian concept.

In the Gospels, there is just one more story that takes place after this one. In it, the rest of the disciples join the seven mentioned here to hear the Lord’s last commands.

From Swedenborg's Works

 

Arcana Coelestia #10087

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10087. 'And you shall take the breast' means the Divine Spiritual in the heavens, which those in heaven make their own. This is clear from the meaning of 'the breast' as the good of charity, and in the highest sense as the Divine Spiritual, dealt with below. The reason why its being made their own by those in the heavens is meant is that the subject in what follows next is the flesh from the ram and the bread from the basket which were not burned on the altar but were left as a portion for and were eaten by Moses, Aaron, and his sons. By this is meant making it their own, the process of which is described in what follows next. The origin of the meaning of 'the breast' as the good of charity, and in the highest sense as the Divine Spiritual, lies in correspondence. For the human head corresponds to the good of love to the Lord, which is the good of the inmost heaven and is called the Divine Celestial, whereas the breast corresponds to the good of charity, which is the good of the middle or second heaven and is called the Divine Spiritual; and the feet correspond to the good of faith, thus to the good of obedience, which is the good of the lowest heaven and is called the Divine Natural. Regarding this correspondence, see what has been shown above in 10030.

[2] Since the breast because of its correspondence means the good of charity, and the good of charity results from the will to do good, John - who represented that good - leaned on the Lord's breast or in His bosom, John 13:23, 25, by which the Lord's love of that good is meant. For 'leaning on the breast' or 'in the bosom' means loving. Anyone who knows this may also know what the meaning is of the following words which the Lord addressed to Peter and to John,

Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me? He said, Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. He said to him, Feed My lambs. He said to him again, Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me? He said, Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. He said to him, Feed My sheep. He said to him a third time, Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me? Peter was grieved, therefore he said, Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You. Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep. Truly I say to you, When you were younger you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and lead you where you do not wish. When He had said this He said to him, Follow Me. Having turned round Peter saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper. Seeing him Peter said, Lord, what about him? Jesus said to him, If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me. John 21:15-22.

None can know what these words mean except through the internal sense. This teaches that the Lord's twelve disciples represented all aspects of faith and love in their entirety, just as the twelves tribes of Israel did, and that Peter represented faith, James charity, and John the works or good deeds that flow from charity.

The Lord's twelve disciples represented all aspects of faith and love in their entirety, see 3488, 3858 (end), 6397.

The twelve tribes of Israel had the same representation, 3858, 3926, 4060, 6335, 6640.

Peter represented faith, James charity, and John the works that flow from charity, Prefaces to Genesis 18, 22, and 3750, 4738, 6344 (end).

'The rock', as Peter is also called, means the Lord in respect of faith, 8581.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135, 2760 [1-2]; John 13:22-23, John 21:15-21)


[3] Faith without charity does not love the Lord; nevertheless it is able to teach about things connected with faith and love, and the things that are the Lord's. This was why the Lord said three times, 'Do you love Me?', and then, 'Feed My lambs' or 'Feed My sheep'. For the same reason He says, 'When you were younger you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and lead you where you do not wish', meaning that in its early stages the Church's faith had possessed the good of innocence, like a young child; but when it was in decline, which is the final phase of the Church, faith would not possess that good any longer nor the good of charity, at which point evil and falsity would lead it. All this is what is meant by 'when you are old you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and lead you where you do not wish', that is, you will pass from freedom into bondage. 'Girding' means being acquainted with and seeing truths in light that flows from good, 9952, and 'walking' leading a life in accord with those truths, 8417, 8420, so that 'girding himself and walking where he wished' means acting in freedom; and people act in freedom when an affection for truth springing from good governs their actions, 2870-2893, 9585-9591, and they are led by the Lord, 9096, 9586, 9589-9591. But 'being girded by another and being led where he did not wish' means being in bondage, and people are in bondage when evil governs their actions, and so they are led by hell, 9096, 9586, 9589-9591. 'Lambs', which the Lord mentions first, are those in whom the good of innocence is present, see 3994; 'sheep', which the Lord mentions the second and third times, are those in whom the good of charity, and faith springing from this, are present, 4169, 4809. Also three means the whole period from beginning to end, 2788, 4495, 7715, 9198; consequently, since the Lord spoke to Peter regarding the Church from its early stages to when it was in decline, He said three times, Do you love Me?

[4] As regards John's following the Lord, this was a sign of the truth that those who perform the good deeds of charity follow the Lord, are loved by the Lord, and do not leave Him, whereas those whose faith is separated from charity not only fail to follow the Lord but are also angered by that truth, as Peter was then; not to mention many more arcana within the words contained in that passage.

From all this it is evident also that leaning on the Lord's breast or in His bosom means being loved by Him, and that this expression is used in reference to those who perform the good deeds of charity. Much the same is meant by carrying in the bosom, Isaiah 40:10-11, and lying in the bosom, 2 Samuel 12:3.

(References: Exodus 29:26; John 13:22-23)

  
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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.


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