In John 21 the Risen Jesus appears to 7 disciples on a beach adjacent to the Sea of Galilee. He directs them to a huge haul of fish, then invites them to breakfast. After breakfast, he allows Peter to affirm his love for him as often as Peter had denied him, three times. And each time Jesus says to Peter, “Feed” or “Tend” my sheep. Then Jesus looks straight at Peter and says:
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and 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.”
The text says that Jesus told Peter about the death he would someday die to glorify God. Then Jesus said, “Follow me.”
I have no doubt that those who first heard this story knew exactly how Peter died. We can’t be sure. An old and usually reliable tradition says that he was crucified in Rome. A less reliable source says that he was crucified upside down because he refused to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. Peter’s death “glorified God,” because it put the seal of authenticity on his life. Many times along the way he could have saved his life by denying Jesus, but he did not.
For twenty centuries this same text has served as a parable of old age. When we are young, we dress and gird ourselves and go where we want to go. But when we grow old, we stretch out our hands, perhaps asking for help, and others dress us and gird us and take us where we do not want to go. Continue reading