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.

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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 #6073

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6073. 'What are your works?' means regarding duties and services. This is clear from the meaning of 'works' as forms of good, dealt with in 6048, thus useful services and duties, for these are forms of good. Every good that is called a good of charity consists in nothing other than useful service, and useful services are nothing other than works done for one's neighbour, country, Church, and the Lord's kingdom. Regarded essentially charity does not actually become charity until it passes into action and becomes a work; for loving someone but not doing anything good for him when the possibility exists is not really loving him. Doing good for him when the possibility exists, and doing it with all one's heart, is loving him; for then the actual deed or work contains all that constitutes charity towards him. For works embrace every aspect of charity and faith present with a person and are called forms of spiritual good, made such through the exercise of charity, that is, through useful services.

(References: Mark 14:66-72)


[2] Because the angels in heaven are governed by good received from the Lord, they have no greater desire than to perform useful services. These are the very delights of their life, and in the measure that they perform useful services they enjoy blessing and happiness, 453, 696, 997, 3645.

This is also the Lord's teaching in Matthew,

The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father together with His angels, and at that time He will repay everyone according to his works. Matthew 16:17.

'Works' is not used here to mean works such as they are in outward appearance but such as they appear inwardly - that is to say, what kind of charity they hold within them. Angels do not look on works in any other way.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 453-454; Matthew 16:27)


[3] Furthermore, since works are a combination of every aspect of charity and faith present with a person, and since life causes charity to be charity and faith to be faith, and so to be good, John was loved more than the other disciples by the Lord and leaned on His breast at the Last Supper, John 21:20. For that disciple represented the good deeds or works of charity, see the Prefaces to Genesis 18, 22. For the same reason the Lord said to him Follow Me; He did not say it to Peter, 1 who represented faith, see those same Prefaces, and this led faith, which is Peter, to be indignant and say,

Lord, but what about this man? Jesus said to Him, If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You, follow Me. John 21:19, 11-23.

This was also a prediction that faith would come to despise works, even though the Lord associates Himself with them, as may also be seen quite clearly from the Lord's words addressed to the sheep and the goats at Matthew 25, where nothing else than works are listed in Verses Matthew 25:34-46. The fact that faith would disown the Lord is evident from the representation by Peter in his denial of Him three times, [Matthew 26:34.] His denial 'at night' means the final period of the Church when no charity would exist any longer, 6000; his denial 'three times' means that at that point the final period would be complete, 1825, 2788, 4495, 5159; and 'before the cock crowed' means before a new phase of the Church had arrived, for twilight and morning which follow night mean the first phase of a Church, 2405, 5962.

Footnotes:

1. The words "Follow Me" at John 21:22 were clearly addressed to Peter. What Swedenborg intended to say is not clear to the translator.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135, 2760 [1-2], Genesis 47:3; John 21:21-23; Luke 22:54-62; Mark 14:66-72; Matthew 26:69-75)

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


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