More than words – Friday, 7th Week of Easter – Acts 25:13b-21/John 21:15-19
The lectionary, in a run up to Pentecost, picks up the narrative that we left at Easter. The disciples in the gospel of John, seven of them, (see John 21: 1) have decided to go fishing prompted by their leader, Peter. His actions follow a typical human pattern; an intense spiritual experience soon fades, and one returns to the same things he or she has always done. While verses 1-15 were studied and reflected upon in the Easter octave, verse 16 onwards rounds the narrative.
It is here on the shores of Galilee, that Jesus works one last miracle for his despondent disciples. They who could catch nothing the whole night long now encounter the risen Christ in the form of ‘someone’ who gives these seasoned fishermen a tip on fishing. That tip paid off and they hauled in 153 fish.
It is interesting to see that the Gospel of John began with a miracle at the wedding in Canna and ends with a miracle on the shores of Galilee. 160 gallons of wine and 153 very large fish. Jesus never stops loving and giving. What he did while alive he continues to do after his resurrection.
Now, seated around a charcoal fire, eating breakfast with Jesus, it was time to address another matter that had been unsettled a few days earlier around another charcoal fire. It was on Maundy Thursday, in the house of the high priest, around a charcoal fire that Peter had denied the Lord three times.
This must have been an awkward moment. Our Lord asks Peter the same question thrice, “do you love me?” and thrice Peter will say, Yes Lord, I love you.” Jesus had already met with Peter individually on the day of His resurrection (Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5). We can only wonder what Jesus and Peter talked about at that first meeting. Nevertheless, it was still important for Jesus to restore Peter in the presence of the other disciples. Jesus didn’t ask Peter, “Are you sorry?” nor “Will you promise never to do that again?” Jesus challenged Peter to love.
It is interesting to note that Jesus addresses Peter as ‘Simon’. Perhaps Jesus was making a point to the first Pope, a subtle reminder that he had not stood as a rock in faithfulness to Jesus. It was the boast of Peter (13:37) that he would lay down his life for Christ; this was his boast of love and yet when the time came, Peter failed the Lord. Predictably, there are no words of chastisement for Peter. The Lord has but as simple yet loaded question, “do you love me?” Peter’s heart is now under examination.
It is interesting to note that Jesus does not ask us, do you love your Archbishop or the Church or the priest or your spouse or your children? He asks Peter and he asks us, “do you love ME.” The love for Christ sets everything right and all things are then ordered to his will. Without our devoted love for Christ, the rest stands empty and hollow.
Peters’ confession, “Yes Lord, I love you,” cannot just be a matter of words but must be seen in action. The words of Christ to his Church are clear; ‘if you love me feed my sheep, tend to my lambs.’ To the billion Christians in the world, the message on the eve of Pentecost is clear, IF you love Christ then work for the sheep and the lambs. The love of God is seen in our work not just in our words. But even more, those we tend to are not ours but HIS. Jesus says to Peter, “feed MY sheep.”
I have said this so often to myself, that when a pastor is appointed to a parish or a congregation, what ought to weigh heavily on his shoulders is that he is but a shepherd to the Lord’s flock. This is not a post of honour but service. On him weighs the burden of the souls of his parishioners. It is for him to feed and tend these lambs and sheep and not slaughter and eat.
There is so much to reflect in this text for priest and people…choose one