14 April 2013. 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41. The apostles were put on trial for preaching the Gospel. But they are willing to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Rev. 5:11-14. Glimpses of the heavenly liturgies are a feature of the book of the Apocalypse, here in praise of Christ crucified and the risen.
Jn 21:1-19. The risen Jesus appears to seven of his apostles on the shore of the lake of Galilee, and confirms Peter as chief pastor of the church.
First Reading: Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.
Second Reading: Book of Revelation 5:11-14
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Gospel: John 21:1-19
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
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.”
The Big Catch
Fish are funny creatures. They are always so busy and yet seem so pointlessly busy. Ever on the move, they flit about, dashing and darting hither and thither, full of agitation and enthusiasm. How easily they are alarmed by every ripple, every shadow on the water! Always keyed-up, on the alert, so ready for the unexpected, and yet so easily duped. So quick to react to the first rumours of danger and yet so easily caught.
Dare I say, there is a certain “fishiness” about us – in the spiritual sense. We are among the fish Christ sent Peter out to catch. Like fish, we are immersed in a sea of troubles and distractions, easily alarmed and agitated by every ripple of excitement, every shadow of doubt that crosses our paths. We expend so much energy on what are, in the end of the day, trivialities. We can dangerously dally with temptation, and let ourselves be hooked by unhealthy lures, from cigarettes to status symbols. It is little wonder that Christ showed a marked preference for fishermen when he chose his first apostles.
Today’s story reflects the miracle of our own lives. Through his church, Christ has thrown his net over us, a net of grace. He says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” And like a fisherman’s net it remains unseen beneath the surface. And we are drawn into it, if we allow it to happen. Even in spite of our struggling may we be caught in God’s net “I liontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn.”
Today’s miraculous catch of fish recalls that other big catch to which Christ compared the kingdom of heaven. We may be sharp in our estimates of the world and its ways. We might be accurate in our judgement of individuals. We may be keen critics of those whose behaviour falls short of the demands of the gospel. But we cannot limit the infinite sufficiency of God’s grace. There is no telling what size the catch will be until the net is finally drawn in at the end of time. Like today’s catch, it may well astonish even the most seasoned of fishermen. Who knows what queer fish will be caught there spluttering and gasping at the breadth of God’s mercy? The “big catch” is Christ’s answer to those prophets of gloom who would put so many outside his reach.
Meeting by the Lake-shore
Our gospel gives a graphic encounter between Jesus and his apostles after his resurrection. It is as if he wants them to recognise him, so that they will have no doubt whatever that he is risen from the dead. And it adds another miracle involving a catch of fish, followed by the human touch of Jesus preparing breakfast for the apostles. This includes the healing of any scars of guilt that Peter bore, because of denying Jesus during the Passion.
There was a certain Irishman at the top of his profession as a film star, enjoying worldwide acclaim. He was noted for never missing a chance to return to the area in which he grew up. When we came home, he became a local again, attended the local games and talked to the local fishermen. This helped to make him more REAL for the locals and maybe even for himself as well. In today’s gospel, after his resurrection Jesus is back among the old familiar scenes. He cooks a meal for his friends, he filled their boats with fish, and this ensured that he was accepted and recognised as someone who loved them and cared for them.
Jesus was the meeting place of the human and the divine. In him human powerlessness was turned into power, strength, hope, and conviction. Although Jesus was a carpenter, and Peter and his friends were the fishermen, it Jesus who helped them fill their boats with fish. Many years before, his mother had learned that “nothing is impossible with God.” Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Sometimes we must be at the point of utter failure and despair before we are ready or humble enough to let him into our situation, and let the miracle happen.
For Jesus to cook breakfast for the Apostles is a lovely lesson. They must have remembered that this was the same Jesus who carried a cross to Calvary. We know the phrase “some things never change,” and St Paul tells us that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always.” Although he has overcome death and now enjoys the freedom of a life beyond death, he still keeps that human touch, a down-to-earth relationship with those whom he calls his friends.
Did you notice how Peter never actually apologises, in so many words. In a movie of some years back there was a famous line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” While this can be true in one sense, in another sense “Love means saying sorry even when you don’t have to.” When the woman washed his feet with her tears Jesus said, “Many sins are forgiven her because she loves much.” Paul says that love covers a multitude of sins. Peter could havespent the rest of his life confessing his sin, begging forgiveness, or he could simply open his heart, let our Lord look within him and see that he really did love Jesus. Peter was direct and uncomplicated. He spoke from his heart and he knew that Jesus loved him. Because of his very failures and being well aware of them, Peter was ideal to be put in charge of others. Earlier, he had recoiled at the idea of Jesus washing his feet, but once he understood the meaning of it he was totally open to whatever it took to be a true disciple. Because he couldn’t afford to point a finger at others, or to condemn them for their human weaknesses, he had the compassion necessary to be a leader. To be a leader of the followers of Jesus, was to be of service to others.
A final point to notice in today’s gospel is that, despite everything they had been through, the apostles had returned to work, and had decided to get on with life. They had moved on from that sense of withdrawal that we see among them on Mount Thabor, when after seeing Jesus transfigured, resplendent glory, Peter wanted simply to stay there, basking in the glory of it all. But Jesus had a job to do, and they had to come down off the mountain, and get on with everyday living. Still, having seen his glory, something deep within them was changed, and from then on they knew what was truly important in life.
Peter’s Learning Experience
Some people refer to the story we just heard, Jesus’ conversation with Peter by the lakeshore, as Peter’s Conversion. Others call it Peter’s Confession. Peter’s Confession is appropriate whether we understand confession to mean a declaration of faith or an admission of guilt. It is easy to see Jesus triple question to Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter’s triple answer in the positive as Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. What is not so easy is to see how this dialogue represents Peter’s confession of guilt. To see the penitential aspect of what is going on here we need to read the story in the original Greek.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus had to ask Peter three good times if he loved him? We can see here a correspondence with Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. But that is not all. In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds right. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him.
In Greek there are several different words translated by the one English word love. C.S. Lewis wrote wittily about them in The Four Loves. There is Storgé the quiet liking you might have for a neighbour who is agreeable and with whom you occasionally share a pleasantry. There is eros, which means sensual or erotic love, the kind of love that can bond a couple along with their friendship, and often leads to marriage. Then there is philia, meaning friendly love, the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Finally there is agapé, which mainly means generous and self-giving love, even when there is nothing tangible to be gained. (These are just generalised definitions and are not verified in every case for each of these terms).
Back to the gospel story. Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me? Do you have agapé for me?” meaning “Do you love me in such a manner as to sacrifice your life for me.” Peter knows that he has not lived up to this standard of love. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So what does Peter answer? He answers, “Philo se. Yes, Lord, I have philia for you,” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you.” You see why it is a confession of failure? Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I love and admire you, but no, I have not been able to love you with a self-sacrificing love as you demand.” So Jesus asks him a second time whether he has agape for him and Peter again replies that he has philia for him. Finally, unwilling to embarrass him further, Jesus then asks him “Do you have philia for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia for you.” Jesus accepts Peter the way he is. Even his philia is good enough.
The Peter we see here is not the loud-mouthed, boastful man who thought he was better than the other disciples but a wiser, humbler man who would not claim more than he can deliver. Peter’s confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love.”
In our worship services we often sing hymns that profess our love for Jesus. Think of “O how I Love Jesus” or “O, the Love of the Lord Is the Essence.” Peter challenges us today to realise that hymns like these only tell half of the story. The other half is that there is a part of us that does not love God, that denies the Lord when our life, our future or our well-being is at stake. Peter’s example invites us to bring this negative side of us to God for healing. So today, let us join Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love.”