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Simon Son of Jonah, Do You Love Me? —The Eleventh Orthros Reading

The Eleventh (11th) Eothinon (Morning Orthros Gospel Reading)
Sermon delivered April 18, 2010

Christ is Risen! Back in January we began our series on the Eleven Eothina. Today we reach the Eleventh and last Eothinon bringing our journey to an end. I hope that we learned a few things. If someone asked us, what is an Eothinon? Would we be able to answer that:

  • It is the Sunday Orthros Gospel reading;
  • That there are eleven of them;
  • That all are post-resurrectional accounts;
  • That they run in succession (1 through 11) and then begin over, so the cycle repeats itself about four times per year;
  • That most of these accounts are not read at any other time during the liturgical year and that is why it is important to attend the Sunday Orthros service.

The cycle starts over with the Feast of Pascha, so today we read the Fourth Eothinon which corresponds to today’s commemoration of the Myrrhbearing Woman (3rd Sunday of Pascha). Therefore, let us read the Eleventh Eothinon (John 20:15-25) before examining the passage more closely. Again, this passage is read liturgically only for the Eleventh Sunday Orthros Gospel.

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, 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 carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 23Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 25And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen (John 20:15-25).

The first thing we should notice is the two main sections of the passage. The first (vv.15-19) is the restoration of Peter and the second (vv.20-25) focuses on the beloved disciple.

Let’s direct our attention on the first section. It is called the restoration of Peter because he denied Christ three times during the latter’s trial. Here, Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responds, “Yes, Lord you know that I love You.” This exchange between Jesus and Peter is a prime example of how the English translation fails to capture the depth of the original Greek. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, Jesus says, Agapas me, a conjugation of the Greek verb for agape.

The notation in the Orthodox Study Bible says agape is “the highest form of sacrificial and self-emptying love, the kind of love God has for man and that man can develop only through maturing in God’s grace.” However, Peter answers Jesus each time with “philo se.” The study bible notes that this is “a lesser from of love, akin to brotherly affection.” When Chirst asks Peter the third time, “Do you love me?”, He says phileis me, “condescending to Peter’s weakness and accepting whatever love Peter is able to offer” (Orthodox Study Bbible, p.1467).

What’s the message to us in this part of the passage? Well that Christ and the Church always sets the bar high for us to learn the goal or ideal of our existence. Yet, at the same time, pastorally, Christ knows that we are imperfect, weak and sinful. Thus, He and his priests seek to meet us at whatever level we are and to lift us up, just like Christ is lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves in the icon of the Resurrection, so familiar to us at this time of year.

This is emphasized by Christ’s use of arnia or “lambs” in verse 15 and then using provata or “sheep” in verses 16 and 17. In other words, Jesus is restoring Peter for the purpose of taking care of His flock of believers helping them grow from little, fragile lambs to strong, mature sheep, sometimes “tending” them (vv.15,17) and sometimes “feeding” them (v.16). In addition, “Christ knows that Peter will develop agape love for Him, as Peter will eventually accept martyrdom for His sake (OSB). Just like Jesus told Peter to follow Him after prophesying his martyrdom, Jesus also tells us to follow Him as He takes us on a journey to know and grow in His love, learning how to live a life of greater and greater self-sacrifice.

Moving on to the second section of our passage, as Peter is following Jesus, he turns around and sees the beloved disciple also following Jesus. We know from last week that the unnamed disciple is the author of this gospel, John the Beloved also known in the Orthodox Tradition as John the Apostle, Evangelist and Theologian. When Peter sees John, he asks Christ, what about this man (v.21). In other words, Peter is asking is John going to die too and if he does, how will it happen? Jesus’ replies, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (v.22). Basically, Jesus is saying to Peter it’s none of your business what happens to John, just follow Me.

Christ says the same thing to us. Stop looking around at everyone else, worrying about their lives, critiquing what they are doing, trying to predict or judge their salvation. Jesus is telling us we must concentrate on our own lives, focusing on what we need to do in order to follow Him to the kingdom of heaven. It’s kind of like driving a car. When we start texting or talking on our cell phone, we stop paying attention to what’s going on around us. Thus, we put ourselves in danger of running off the road or causing an accident. We must pay attention to what’s right in front of us and how we can safely get to our destination.

The last part of the second section is an affirmation that indeed John the Beloved disciple is the author of this gospel and that it is a true gospel. Perhaps his disciples or scribes are distinguishing John’s testimony compared to some other false gospels that were circulating at the time. In addition, we learn that John’s gospel, and most likely the other gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, only contain a portion of Jesus’ teachings and miracles. In other words, even though there is much more, the gospel still contains what is essential for us to learn and apply in our own life to believe and to be saved.

Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews

Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.

Published: April 20, 2010

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