“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? Feed my lambs …; tend my sheep …;feed my sheep …; follow me.” (John 21:15, 16, 17 and 19).
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, Son of John” on two occasions. In chapter one, Andrew, Simon’s brother, introduced Peter to Jesus. On this occasion, Jesus draws attention to Simon Peter’s natural human condition and his future role in the divine dispensation. Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon, the Son of John? You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter). (John 1 :42). Simon, the son of John, is to become, by the grace of God, Peter the rock upon whom Jesus will build the church. Simon, Son of John, does not become Peter the rock by a process of natural development, not by a process of developing his natural potential but by a process of transformation by the power of God.
In a sense this process of transformation which began in chapter one is not completed until chapter twenty-one where we find the second occasion when Jesus addressed him as Simon, Son of John — Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Among all the disciples, Peter was the one who had protested his devotion to Jesus most vehemently, promising to follow him even to death. “Peter said to him, Lord why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (John 13:37)
All the Gospels record the terrible fact that Peter, the leaders of the Apostolic band, denied his master at the moment of crisis. The evangelist John, in line with the consistent teaching of his Gospel, is at pains to show that this did not arise from any moral weakness in Peter but was one manifestation of the necessary fact that the meaning of Jesus’ death can in no circumstances be grasped by unaided human nature (flesh and blood), but can only be grasped by the new dispensation of the spirit which is inaugurated by the passion and resurrection of Jesus.
Peter had been among the first to be called by Jesus to follow him. And he had followed faithfully in his way. Peter is ready to lay down his life for Jesus, just as Jesus had said that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And Peter’s word was proved true when in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane Peter drew his sword and proposed to fight single handedly against a whole company of soldiers. But that act of the impetuous – Peter brought only a sharp rebuke from Jesus. “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Peter is eager to follow, but he cannot because “the way” has not yet been opened. No one can follow until Jesus has done what he alone can do. Only he can “offer for all time a single sacrifice for sin.” (Hebrews 10:12). Jesus does this as an act of loving obedience to his Father – “Not my will but your will be done.” When Jesus has accomplished his saving work, a way will be opened along which Peter can and will follow, along with all who take up the cross and follow Jesus. Now he sees through a glass darkly and has to come to the realization that his human and loyal determination to follow Jesus leads him to act in his own strength without reliance on the will and power of God.
So in chapter twenty-one, Peter, who had promised to follow even unto death comes face to face with his friend and master whom he had three times denied. On this occasion, he is addressed by his old name, the name he had before Jesus met and called him to discipleship. Once again, as on that night of his threefold apostasy, Jesus looked at him across a charcoal fire and challenged him three times with the simple yet painfully searching question, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Three times Peter answers with an affirmation of his love – but an affirmation which rests its confidence not on the strength of his own love but on the sureness of Jesus’ knowledge. “Lord you know everything, you know that I love you. And three times Jesus solemnly gives to the grieved and humbled disciple the commission to be the shepherd, guiding, guarding and nourishing the flock which belongs to Jesus. “Feed my lambs;” “Tend my sheep;” “Feed my sheep” are three commands included in the overriding command of Jesus “follow me.”
In the light of the Resurrection, Peter has learned what following Jesus really means. In the past, he had tried to follow according to his own desires and in his own strength. Now he will learn that following Jesus means going the way of the cross. “When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21 :18-19). After this he said to him “follow me.”
This following along the way of the cross will glorify God, for just as Jesus manifested the glory of God in his death, so the same glory will be manifested in the disciples whom he sends out into the world. “The glory that you have given me I have given them.”
So Peter receives the good news that the threefold denial is wiped out and forgiven in the threefold commissioning. “Feed my lambs;” “Tend my sheep;” “Feed my sheep.” An important element in the good news is the fact that the flock which belongs to Jesus consists not of the righteous but of sinners called to repentance. We need to remember that the primacy which Peter holds among the apostles is the primacy of a forgiven sinner. “You are Peter” is said by Jesus to the one to whom in the next breath Jesus will say “get behind me, Satan.” (Matthew 16: 18, 23). It is to the fisherman overwhelmed by the realization of his sinfulness that Jesus says “Do not be afraid, henceforth you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:8-10). It is to the disciple who will fall away that Jesus says, “when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31).
Peter is to be both a fisher of men and shepherd as he answers the call of Jesus to “follow me.” Peter can only serve as fisher of men and shepherd in so far as he is first a disciple – one who is following Jesus along the way to the cross.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as disciples of the same Christ who continues to invite persons everywhere to follow him, we have assembled to participate in the solemn liturgy for the consecration of Bishops in the Church of God. It is only fitting on this occasion, to reflect on the nature of Christian ministry with special emphasis on Episcopal ministry.
As Anglicans, we identify with the growing ecumenical consensus on the nature of ministry reflected in the document issued by the World Council of Churches entitled “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” (BEM). All ministries in the church, including the ordained ministry, are gifts (charisms) of the Spirit for the building up of the body of Christ. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:4-8) “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) “The Holy Spirit bestows on the community diverse and complementary gifts.” (BEM, Ministry, 5) This charismatic understanding of ordained ministry is reflected in BEM’s interpretation of the meaning of ordination: “Ordination denotes an action by God and the community which through long tradition takes place in the context of worship and especially of the eucharist … The act of ordination by the laying on of hands of those appointed to do so is at one and the same time invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis): sacramental sigh; acknowledgement of gifts and commitment. Ordination is an invocation to God that the new minister be given the power of the Holy Spirit in the new relation which is established between this minister and the local Christian community and, by intention, the Church universal.” (BEM, Ministry, 40-42)
Ordained ministry is not only a gift of the Spirit. It is also a representative ministry. While all baptized Christians represent Christ and the church, the ordained ministry represents Christ and the church in particular ways. In his book, “A Ministry Shaped by Mission,” Paul Avis explores the concept of representation as applied to the ordained ministry. According to Avis, the ordained ministry represents Christ to the community which is already united to Christ in baptism. The ordained ministry acts as the representative and organ of the whole body in the exercise of responsibilities which belong to the body as a whole.
The understanding of ordained ministry as a gift of the Spirit and a representative ministry together with the language of “sign” and “symbol” used in ecumenical agreements in connection with the ordained ministry challenge a purely functional understanding of ordained ministry, including episcopal ministry. Because Christ’s ministry is present to us only through the Spirit, ecclesial ministry is necessarily charismatic. For the same reason, it is relational. The nexus of relationships established by the Spirit creates a new way of being, which transforms both the one ordained and those for whom he is ordained, making it futile to debate whether ordained ministry in the church is functional or ontological in nature. BEM points in this direction when it speaks of ordination as establishing a “new relation” between the ordained minister and the local and universal church. Ordained ministry is neither a status nor a set of functions, but a charism of the Spirit which is to say that it is a sacramental reality.
Already in the early paragraphs of the Ministry section of BEM, the sacramental and not merely functional aspect of ministry, and indeed of episcopal office, is implied and assumed:
“The chief responsibility of the ordained ministry is to assemble and build up the body of Christ by proclaiming and teaching the Word of God, by celebrating the sacraments, and by guiding the life of the community in its worship, its mission and its caring ministry. It is especially in the eucharistic celebration that the ordained ministry is the visible focus of the deep and all-embracing communion between Christ and the members of his body. In the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ gathers, teaches and nourishes the Church. It is Christ who invites to the meal and who presides at it. In most churches this presidency is signified and represented by an ordained minister.” (BEM, Ministry. 13-14) In the Anglican tradition it is primarily the bishop as eucharistic president who is the sign of communion.
In IASCER’s response to the Lutheran document The Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church particular note was taken of the patristic tradition concerning episcopal ministry:
“Historians commonly agree that there are three principal images or models of the office of a bishop in the pre-Nicene church, which are best exemplified in Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus, and Cyprian. For Ignatius, the bishop is primarily the one who presides at the eucharist. This is central for Ignatius because of his understanding of the nature of the church. For Ignatius, then, the bishop is … the one who presides at … the eucharistic liturgy.
Irenaeus, on the other hand, while echoing the eucharistic teaching of Ignatius, places primary emphasis on the bishop’s role as teacher of the faith. The context here is the conflict with Gnosticism. For Irenaeus, the bishop is above all the one who preserves the continuity of the apostolic teaching in unbroken succession from the apostles. It is through the bishop’s faithful proclamation of the Gospel in each local church that the unity of the church and the continuity of the church in the apostolic tradition is preserved.
For Cyprian, the bishop serves as the bond of unity between the local church and the universal church. Here the collegial aspect of the bishop’s role comes to the fore. The Bishop is one member of a worldwide ”˜college’ of bishops who are together responsible for maintaining the unity of the churches. Cyprian’s primary emphasis, therefore, is upon the bishop as the bond of unity between the local church and the church universal.
In each of theses models, therefore, the bishop is the sign of unity between the local and the universal church, either through the maintenance of eucharistic communion, continuity in apostolic teaching, or common oversight of the churches.
My brothers, you are entering the Episcopal ministry within the Anglican Communion at a time when the Communion is being severely challenged in each of the three related areas of the patristic tradition concerning Episcopal ministry. I refer to:
* The maintenance of eucharistic communion
* Continuity and apostolic teaching.
* Oversight of the churches.
The present impaired state of the Communion is due mainly to actions taken by the Episcopal Church of the United States of America in respect of human sexuality with special reference to the consecration of a bishop living in an opened homosexual relationship. The actions of the Episcopal Church have created a situation in which some Anglicans in the United States and throughout most of the Provinces of the Communion are convinced that the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is clear in its teaching and must take precedent over culture. Holding fast to this belief, they cannot accommodate those who believe the contrary. The issue is not primarily on of sexuality but one which seeks to answer the question “which relationships correspond to God’s ordering of life, and violate it?” It is a division of opinion between those of us who firmly believe that homosexual practice violates the order of life give by God in scripture and those who seek by various mean to justify what scripture does not hounour. We, in the Global South, whole heartedly support the position outlined by Richard Hays in “The Moral Vision of the New Testament:”
“Paul singles out homosexual intercourse for special attention because he regards it as providing a particularly graphic image of the way in which human fallenness distorts God’s created order. God the Creator made man and woman for each other, to cleave together to be fruitful and multiply. When human beings ”˜exchange’ these created roles for homosexual intercourse, they embody the spiritual condition of those who have ”˜exchanged the truth about God for a lie.’”
We believe that faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ prevents us from compromising the truth so clearly revealed in holy scripture.
While the Anglican Communion struggles through the present impasse you, as bishops of the church, will be required to give sound and faithful leadership to the people of God committed to your care and charge. In faithful obedience to Christ, you must endeavour to “build up the body of Christ by proclaiming and teaching the word of God, by celebrating the sacrament, and by guiding the life of the community in its worship, mission and its caring ministry.” You cannot fulfill this ministry in your own strength. You must continue to meet the Lord in prayer as you seek to discern his will for his flock. You must love the flock of Christ as he loves us, and you must be a true shepherd “guiding, guarding and nourishing the flock which belongs to Jesus.” As you grow in apostolic ministry, always remember that you are sharing tin the ministry of Jesus the Good Shepherd and never forget that in all you say and do your aim must be to follow Jesus who is indeed “the way, the truth and the life.”