Then he said to Peter, “Follow me!”
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. [...]
When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
-John 21:19b-20a, 21-22
There's this little moment at the end of the Gospel of John that gets overlooked because it comes on the tail end of a major gospel story. Jesus has risen, and he has just had a deep heart-to-heart conversation with Peter, moving toward reconciliation after Peter's denial on the night of the crucifixion. It's raw and honest (and I'm not going to say much more since I'll be teaching on it in a few weeks), and it sets a major trajectory for the story of the early church. It's beautiful.
And then, as Peter is processing this fresh calling that Jesus has just given him (it's not an easy one!), he looks up and sees John walking a little ways behind them. And without thinking too much, he asks Jesus, "what about him???"
Jesus seems a little bit put off by this question. He gives a quick response about the fact that Peter's and John's futures are not going to be the same, and then quickly snaps Peter's focus back, saying: "What is that to you? You must follow me!"
I've been captured by that little exchange. Jesus is working on Peter's heart, but Peter quickly gets sidetracked by becoming overly concerned about someone else's journey. Jesus firmly brings him back. Listen Peter, you needing to figure everyone else out isn't helpful. Your job is to be a faithful disciple, with everything you have. So is his. And his path might look different. Don't get distracted from where I'm leading you.
Disciples of Jesus must learn to hold the balance of personal faith development in the context of shared community. Without personal, daily, honest pursuit of Jesus, we won't ever grow up. And without a community to journey and serve with, we won't learn to mature and be stretched in the complexity and beauty of relationships.
But too often this gets turned around to become spiritual rubbernecking. It's so easy these days to get obsessed with analyzing other people. We might do so out of curiosity, out of critique, as a personal deflection, or out of making sure that other people are getting it "right." But any of those things can make us lose sight of our own faithful discipleship, grounded in the spirit and teachings of Christ.
Is it possible that "concern for others" can sometimes just be an excuse to compare and critique?
In loving community, concern for one another looks like support, encouragement, compassion, and loving connection. Maybe if Peter had sat down with John after dinner and asked him, "brother, I want to hear where Jesus is leading you lately," Jesus would have encouraged him instead of chastising him.
But instead, Peter is just sitting there with Jesus, wondering aloud about the other guy.
Missing the point.
Community gets damaged when our spirits are full of comparing or critiquing other peoples' spiritual journeys. When we obey Jesus' words of "Hey you! Follow me!", that will actually lead us toward deeper love for our neighbors. But if our conversations with Jesus sound more like, "but what about him???", we will never be available to do the internal and external work that God is calling us toward. Each of us has a personal responsibility to faithfully hear and respond to Jesus, not to do it for others.
Of course, this doesn't mean that we never offer critique of anyone or anything. The point is how easy it is for us to lose track of Jesus in those moments. Also, there are those "soul friends" that God brings into our lives to create mutual growth. That's often where really good, really hard questions are asked, and it's an incredible gift. If we find ourselves without anyone like that, it's worth pursuing.
So today, in our conversations with Jesus, maybe these are the questions that we ask:
-Who have I been concerned with in unhelpful ways that I need to release?
-How are you calling me to follow you right now, Jesus?
Lord, release me from my temptation to externalize, so that I can faithfully follow you with all I am today.
Image Credit: Brick Testament