“She has a bigger sand box and swing set. I want bigger ones, too.” “His bike is nicer than mine—I need a new one!” “They have two houses, one at the beach and one in the city. We ought to have two by now, too.” “That company has its men work only five days a week; why am I working five and a half?” “That mission board gives its missionaries refrigerators, cars, and good schools for their children. Why can’t ours?” “Those professors have a whole year off to study. I want to study, too.” “I’ve worked more years than that person—why shouldn’t I get more time off?” “What is she getting in that envelope? I want just as much on my birthday.”

Comparisons start early and continue through life. Children compare what they have, what they can do, what work they are being made to contribute, what privileges they are given. Teenagers do the same thing, but no more than those in their twenties, thirties, fifties, seventies! So often we are so busy craning our necks to try to see what is happening to someone else and what we might be missing by comparison that we never compare ourselves with ourselves.

Think back to the time when Jesus in his resurrected body ate fish and bread with his disciples on the seashore. You remember that the men had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus called out from the shore to ask what they had caught, and when the answer came in a disappointed negative, he told them to put the nets on the other side of the boat. When they did this, there were so many fish that they couldn’t draw the net into the boat and had to drag it along to shore.

Peter couldn’t wait for that. He impatiently jumped into the sea and came in first to see Jesus. It was an exciting thing for Peter to see the risen Lord and to rush in to touch him and be served bread and fish by him.

Peter was probably thinking about how easy it had been to fish after Jesus told them where to put the net, and of how splendid it was to come in wet and tired and be served fresh bread and sizzling hot fish straight from the coals. He might well have been feeling happy and relaxed, expecting easy times ahead. The One who had died and crushed his hopes was now risen. He could do even greater miracles, and here he was with them. The others were probably feeling the same way. They had been through terrible fears and doubts; now they were eating together with the Master, and all was well.

After the meal, Jesus singled out Peter for a serious time of questioning. “Simon Peter, lovest thou me more than these?” “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Each time Peter answered, “Lord you know I love you.” When Jesus asked the question a third time, Peter was hurt, and he insisted that Jesus, who knew all things, must know that he loved Him. As each answer was given Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep, His lambs—that is, to offer from God’s Word to those who would believe on Jesus and become his followers.

Peter, well fed, dry, and warm, full of love for Jesus, accepted this commission to feed the lambs with pleasure, I feel sure. A feeling of satisfaction may have flooded him as he imagined himself sitting and feeding gatherings of hungry people with the spiritual food they longed for. He would be glad to do this.

Suddenly into the midst of his satisfied contemplation came Jesus’ next words like a grenade, shattering the peaceful emotions with fragments of fear:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me [John 21:18, 19].

What is Jesus saying? He is letting Peter have a glimpse of his future, a future that included death by crucifixion, martyrdom! And in the midst of Peter’s dismay, the words continue: “Follow me.” Very simple, very direct.

Peter’s first reaction was to crane his neck and look around. There were all those other disciples there, wiping the crumbs from their lips, looking satisfied. It would be quite natural for Peter to think, “I wonder what is going to happen to each of them? What is in their future? Why should I …” Whatever was going on in his head, what he did was to look suddenly at John. John had leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper, Peter remembered, and was specially loved by Jesus. Peter burst forth to Jesus, “Lord what shall this man do?” Or, “What’s going to happen to John?”

Can’t we each feel the question inside our own emotions? “What about this person living so long on that quiet farm?” “What about that one in Hawaii?” “What about the one who has no dangers at all in his country?” “What about that man and woman who haven’t known serious illness?” “What’s going to happen to John?” The idea is comparison, of course; it all has to be equal.

What was Jesus’ reply? “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.”

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Jesus did not tell Peter that all the stresses and strains would balance out. He did not say that because he is perfect love and perfect justice, each of his children would have equal experience. Jesus said, in effect: “If John is to live until I come back a second time, that is none of your affair: you are to follow my plan for your life. You, Peter, are to love me enough to trust me and follow me wherever that following leads, even to martyrdom for God’s glory.”

There was misreporting in those days as there is now. The next verses say that people reported that Jesus had said John would never die but would live until Jesus returned. This is not so. Jesus had only said, “If John is to live until I come back and you are to be martyred, it is not a reason for you to make comparisons. The only comparison for you to make is between what I tell you to do and what you really do. Follow me!”

We are brought up short. Each of us is in danger of craning his neck to see whether God is giving someone else more, less, an easier life, bigger things, more exciting things to do, and in the process we are apt to take our eyes completely off the directions the Lord has given us. We can miss our own signposts, our own guidance, by being too anxious to compare. And Jesus has the same word for each of us: “Never mind about John—follow me.”

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