10 Jun Friday in the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 25:13ff. Paul, still in the Roman prison at Caesarea, explains his predicament to king Agrippa.
John 21:15ff. Jesus entrusts Peter with the care and responsibility for his followers: “Feed my sheep.”
A Sacred Trust
The sequence of events is important, so natural and yet so filled with spiritual meaning that we must delay here. Youth is marked by an active pursuit of goals. Many options open out before a young man or young woman. With study, experimentation and advice they freely decide. As a person gets older, a more passive acceptance of the inevitable seems to be the only option. As we become still older and now helpless, we may be able to do nothing at all but wait for the inevitable. As we long for death and its release from misery, we must wait for the moment that God decides. At the very end Jesus says, “Follow me!”
In the more active span of life, with many good possibilities opening out before us, we also fail at times to choose what is best. We may turn to evil. Such at least happened to the apostle Peter. Three times out of fear he denied Jesus (Mark 14:66-72). After the resurrection when the apostles had returned to their former trade of fishing, seemingly because their vision of Jesus had evaporated in his death, Jesus appeared to them. He singled out Peter and three times asked, “Do you love me?” Peter no longer seems to be the ebullient impulsive man of the earlier days. He has been humiliated, he has failed even to the extent of betraying Jesus, he has returned to the only occupation which he could manage. Peter is ready to enter the next stage of his life.
Peter has been sobered by failure. He has been made compassionate by his own need for forgiveness and mercy. His heart is open to more and more people, for he shares their reactions and feelings. Not once, not even twice, but three times Jesus asks and insists, “Do you love me?” When Peter answers with humble love, with total surrender, “Lord, you know everything,” then Jesus commissions him to “Feed my sheep.”
In this second stage of his career, Peter summons his first energy and moves from Jerusalem to Antioch and then to Rome. Love, humility, compunction and obedience to the Lord are to be the hallmarks of his ministry. As such, he is the rock of the Church and head of the apostolic band. Even though Peter acts with all his power, still there is a quality of passivity about that exercise: to love and to be loved, to be humble and open to others in their ideas and talents, to be sorrowful for sin and able to appreciate the weakness of others, to obey Jesus at all costs.
Jesus not only singled out Peter from all the apostles but called him particularly to “Feed my sheep.” He was to be the supreme pastor of the Church. Jesus, however, did more. He also announced the martyrdom of Peter: “When you are older you will stretch out your hands, and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will. In the third stage of Peter’s life, the quality of being passive to God’s will and to the desires of others will be all the more pronounced. Peter will be helpless! And at that point, Jesus adds, “Follow me.” Just as Jesus’ supreme act of obedience to his heavenly Father happened when he accepted the cross and allowed others to take his life from him, Peter too would summon all his power and make the most energetic response of his entire life by passively accepting death. “Against his will” and yet willingly because it was the Father’s will, Peter allowed himself to be led away. His only request, according to tradition was to be crucified upside down. He was unworthy to die exactly as did the Lord Jesus!
We too pass through these natural stages of life. We may think that our most valuable contribution comes when we are young. Then we bounce with life and vigor; then we choose between a thousand and one possibilities, in order to do the very best for God. We seem to make all kinds of sacrifices, putting aside many options, for what we believe is what God wants. Yet, there can be a great deal of selfishness in all this, certainly more than a little forgetfulness about others. We just have not lived long enough to really know how they feel. How can the healthy who have never been sick know how physical weakness corrodes a person’s interest, desires and patience. The young in this first stage of their existence can be too innocent or too impulsive, to be tolerant of weakness in others. Sooner or later, they enter the second stage, usually because of some traumatic experience. Peter’s dramatic change came with his betrayal of Jesus just as the Master was humiliated, rejected and killed.
The second stage can become monotonous, as fewer and fewer options appear on the horizon and we settle down more seriously to do the one important task of our life. Yet, once we have experienced how to do it capably well, our energy begins to seep away through sickness and age. This is the moment when we repeat the maxim: if age only could and youth only would.
The third and last stage is our final illness and death. Again Jesus repeats the beckoning of our first call. He says once more, “Follow me.” How can we, as we are unable to walk and to do anything that seems productive? We simply wait. Yet, from deep in our soul we know the meaning of love. Love gives not things but oneself. Love does not seek gifts, even great opportunities, only the person of the other. Jesus does not have to ask: “Do you love me?” He knows it and we know it. He says simply, “Follow me!” We respond with our entire self, most lovingly, most actively for we are not distracted by any other option or choice, most passively for we are carried off. The Scripture says, “against your will,” yet that means how much we would want to run, not be carried. “Against your will” is the ultimate gift of our entire self to Jesus.
First Reading: Acts 25:13-21
After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man here who was left in prison by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him. I told them that it was not the custom of the Romans to hand over anyone before the accused had met the accusers face to face and had been given an opportunity to make a defense against the charge. So when they met here, I lost no time, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. Instead they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor.” Agrippa said to Festus, I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you will hear him.”
Gospel: John 21:15-19
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to 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.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”