[This is the last of the 11 Resurrectional Gospel readings of Matins]
‘I am the good shepherd,’ Jesus proclaimed. ‘The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). A disciple is not above the teacher. Thus Risen Lord instructs Peter three times to feed His flock, and then issues a prophecy of Peter’s martyrdom ‘to glorify God.’
Not all are called to the pastoral ministry established by Peter, yet all of us can learn valuable lessons from this final resurrectional passage. First, the call comes in conjunction with Peter’s need to affirm that he loved the Lord. Peter’s threefold declaration of love reverses his threefold denial of Christ ‘before the cock crowed.’ This shows us the need for repentance before all else.
Again, we may not be asked to lay down our lives in what the Fathers called ‘red’ martyrdom, but all those who would follow Christ are asked for the ‘white’ form of sacrificial witness.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
After Jesus instructed Peter to follow him, Peter, curious about the fate of his fellow disciple, the Evangelist John, asks: ‘What about this man?’ This speaks volumes about the way we love to compare ourselves to others, or take a ‘gossipy’ interest in their lives, or otherwise try to make our business what is the Lord’s affair. So Christ admonishes him:
If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!
At this point, we may well ask ourselves whether we can truly follow Christ, whether we have the wherewithal to repent, or live sacrificially, or quell the passions, or live to God rather than earthly desires. If the message of this passage ended here, it would hardly be the Gospel, which after all means ‘good news.’ But Christ’s message is ultimately not one of admonition, but of exhortation, of encouragement. And it is more than his message, it is very presence in the Holy Spirit that brings us hope, comfort and joy.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-29)