(Editor’s note: Christiaan here, realistically William will be in the hospital until the weekend, I’m covering until then, and I’ll probably spend the rest of the week somewhere in this chapter, I hope you enjoy the Gospel of John as much as I do!)
Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”John 21:22 (NLT)
This is one of the few times where Jesus had a sharp reply to one of his disciples. Normally Jesus would respond like this to someone who was disingenuously trying to trap him, or in the case of something that was objectively evil. (You can read about one of those times where Jesus had a flash of anger. I wrote about it earlier in the year on May 29th and you can read about it here.) So, let’s get a little bit of context. Jesus has been resurrected, he had appeared to the disciples who keep not recognizing him, he had just had a private conversation with Peter, and then eaten with the disciples. Peter and Jesus go for a walk and John begins to follow them.
Peter, who had just been reconciled as a disciple (it’s kind of a convoluted series of events and the basis for my next two verse of the days) and been given a commission of his own, hears John following him and according to verse 20 turns around and sees John, he then asks jesus, “What about him, Lord?” to which Jesus replies with our focus verse, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.”
“What about him, Lord?
Whataboutism, is beyond crippling to our daily lives. I remember when my mom used to discipline my sister and I, whenever I got in trouble, I would seem to point out the fact that either it wasn’t my fault because someone did something that I was only responding to and my response was thus justified… OR, I would ask to make sure that the other party (often times my sister) was punished appropriately. It was mildly infuriating, but as my mom would always wisely respond to my protests, “You’re responsible for your actions. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does, or how wrong, they were. By responding in that way, you’re guilty of doing wrong in the same way.”
Now that I’m older, I appreciate that advice, and it’s guided me through multiple interactions that could have gone worse if I didn’t remember that. I think the world would be a more peaceful place especially in the year 2020 with all the self justified rioting, looting, and wanton destruction of property due do to injustices, both actual and perceived if everyone’s mom’s had been like mine in this and many other respects. “Group X did bad thing, therefore I’m ok to do this other, potentially worse thing!” or “Yes, I did X action, but that was only to bring light to Y injustice” based on this verse how can we assume Jesus would respond? I would argue he would say, “What is that to you? Follow me.”
Outside of a justice/punishment perspective, “What about him, Lord?” is crippling to our walk with God. Whether it be the envies or lusts of the things of others, “We’re both Christians, how come she has that good job and that nice car?” or “Wait, I’m a Christian, and my life is complete crap, yet this guy is perhaps the worst of all sinners I know, and him life couldn’t be better.” But it doesn’t stop there. In Peter’s case, his potential envy wasn’t over material or other things, it was of something good, mayhaps even Godly. I mean, I’ve had to focus on this, and remember this lesson.
I mean look at it. Peter is walking with the resurrected messiah, he had spent his life waiting for. He had just had a private meal with him, was reconciled with God himself in a really special way. And then PERSONALLY given a commission and his calling in life. And what’s his first response after this. “What about John, Lord?” I mean, if I had been Jesus, I feel like I would have wanted to grab Peter by the shoulders and be like, “Dude, listen.” *snap snap* “Focus. Look at me. Look at me. What did we just talk about? You. Follow me.”
It should be noted that while Jesus’s words’ and tone based on the tenses of the greek is sharp, Jesus isn’t belittling or elevating one disciple over another, but instead telling Peter to not worry about what John’s calling is, because John’s calling is not Peter’s calling. And Peter’s calling isn’t my calling. God’s timing isn’t my timing. It took John until he was in his 90’s before he finished the work God had prepared for him; Peter had 66 years, and Jesus only 33 – Jesus was much more efficient.
I mean, in my own life, I was 35 before I got my first full time vocational ministry job. I had been called and prophecies had been given since before I was a year old. I had dutifully served and volunteered in church most of my life, went to school, got my masters, and did nothing with it because I was at a secular job. I remember confiding in one of my groups, that I was really struggling with the fact that kids I had discipled had gotten full time jobs as pastors without near the training, or experience I had. I was again reminded of this verse by a friend of mine. Little did I know at the time, however, that God was preparing me. At my current job, I’ve pulled on past experiences in every job I’ve held. I see now how God is using everything for his glory. BUT, if I had let my whataboutisms fester, and I had become bitter, angry with God, or worse with his people. I may not have been ready for the opportunity I had been given.
Anyway. When you’re walking with Jesus, may you not stop, turn around, and focus on others. May you not let what God is doing in others’ lives affect you. May you not justify your actions by others. May you choose to not ask “What about them, Lord?” and most importantly, may you follow him.