05 May Homily: 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C
Sunday, May 5, 2019 | Easter
Third Sunday of Easter
Year C | Roman Missal | Lectionary
First Reading Acts 5:27–32, 40b–41
Response Psalm 30:2a
Psalm Psalm 30:2, 4–6, 11–13
Second Reading Revelation 5:11–14
Gospel John 21:1–19
Our readings for this 3rd Sunday of Easter in Year C of the church’s liturgical calendar are, at first glance, an odd selection and we might be forgiven for wondering how they relate. But after thinking about them for a while I think they in some way deal with the correct understanding of power – a power that builds up rather than breaks down, a power that serves rather than demands to be served, a power that liberates rather than one that controls, that offers a new hope rather than imprisoning one in one’s past. The power to recognize the one who really and truly has the power, our Lord and Saviour, the Risen Jesus Christ.
In our first reading, the high priest questions Peter and John. They have been brought before the Sanhedrin – the Temple Court – and in effect are being charged with the same crime that they alleged Jesus had committed. If you recall, Jesus was charged with teaching something that was not authorized by the temple authorities – his teaching scandalized the religious leaders at the time because he made a claim to be the Son of God. Peter and John are being accused of teaching in Jesus’ name – something the authorities, after the crucifixion and what they supposed was a fake resurrection, had expressly forbidden, but Peter declares that ‘we must obey God rather than men.” He is proposing to us a clear priority in how we should behave and interpret reality. We need to put God first. We need to acknowledge our own creaturehood and honour the Creator. This means we cannot be confused about ourselves and God.
Very often do not the people with power in our lives, our political leaders say, do they not sometimes behave as if they were God. There are some that believe that they have the power and that we must give way to them, to worship them if you will, and so obey, unquestioningly, their rules, their agendas. But Peter is reminding us that the duty of all creatures is to honour the creator – just like in the 2nd reading – we hear how God should be praised, and we are told how “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,” [and how that worthy Lamb should] “receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing”. All our praise and honour, loyalty and obedience should go to God. But how does this right ordering relate to the Gospel?
In the Gospel we hear several very rich episodes of how Jesus reveals himself at the Sea of Tiberias and invites the disciples, especially Peter, to breakfast. We know that in the days after his resurrection there have been several post-resurrection appearances. In all of them the people do not immediately recognize Jesus, and very often it is at the breaking of bread or the explanation of scripture, or as in this case, a silent word or command that causes them to catch a huge haul of fish, that they are able to perceive Jesus as their Lord.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, can we picture a project or work in our lives that seemed impossible, but just like the disciples in the boat who aren’t catching anything, and suddenly the dawn comes and it all comes together – can we recognize the Lord in that? Can we see the Lord’s Risen presence in our lives? The Disciples want to rush towards the Lord? How quick are we to approach the Lord when we perceive his presence in our lives?
Many people who reflect about this Gospel talk about the fish and the commission to be fishers of men and women – and that’s important, but the power that Jesus displays for Peter, is I think very important to consider here. It is one of love and forgiveness, and the offering of a new commission to join with Him. It is a new start without any reservation for Peter.
Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. He had denied Christ three times… He had become disloyal and disobedient – qualities he probably despised in others he had to face in himself. The Risen Christ had already appeared to several others of the Apostles, beginning with Mary Magdalene – but also to others like the two on the road to Emmaus or to the entire group – even coming back for Thomas… But out of all of them, Peter was the one who was probably hurting the most – and because of this Jesus visits Peter again. Peter is hurting and probably trying to process everything that happened and that was probably what led him to go and fish again – because that’s what he did before – it was a familiar activity – something he knew he could control. He was just in so much pain he wanted to return to his old life and his old ways.
But in this Gospel from St John, beyond the fish and the commission, I think one of the significant symbols here is the presence of the charcoal fire – because it reminds us of another incident from a few chapters before.
Yes the disciples catch a huge haul of fish – but remember when they see Jesus with the charcoal fire on the beach, there was already fish there. Jesus did not need the disciple’s catch of fish… but he invites them to bring them anyway. This is an important point to remember for those of us who feel the need to do everything for God. God does not need our deeds – he wants our hearts. That does not mean we must become lazy – if we want to help build God’s Kingdom we must do our best – but we have misunderstood if we think it depends on us… it all depends on God. Indeed when the disciples first tried to catch they caught nothing – but when they listened to the Lord, when they obeyed him, if you will, they caught 153 fish – a catch so large it was beyond their imagination. But when they came to Jesus on the beach he had already prepared fish for them. He offered them a meal that he provided. He broke bread and shared fish and they ate. A practical show of love for people who had been out all night and were probably hungry. But, at least for Peter, his hunger was also to be reconciled.
Remember how Peter warmed himself near the charcoal fire in the courtyard and then denied his savior three times before the cock crowed? Jesus is using the image of the charcoal and the fish to represent the two things that are going on here – total forgiveness and an invitation to join fully in mission. Peter is hurting because of his previous betrayal but Jesus does not ascend without first taking Peter aside, and being a pastor to him, trying to heal him, and so he walks with him privately and asks Peter ‘Do you love me’?
Jesus asks Peter three times to make up for the three times of betrayal. When Peter replies, the word he uses for ‘love’ is different to the one Jesus uses in the first two questions. Jesus uses the words ‘agape’ – this highest form of love – but Peter uses the word ‘philo’ which describes a lesser form of love. Jesus says to Peter, do you agape me? And Peter says, yes I philo you. Then, the third time, Jesus says do you philo me – and Peter – a little exasperated says ‘you know everything, you know that I philo you’. I’ve always thought this is Jesus coming to where Peter is – not expecting him to offer what he cannot, but accepting him as he his and where he is – with his limitations. And he does the same with each of us when he forgives us… Jesus is using his power to heal the broken heart and bruised memories – and as he does so, he does not just forgive and say ‘everything will be alright’ – no! He offers Peter a command, a new commission – this is a sharing of Jesus’ mission and ministry with Peter – and indeed with each of us. ‘As the father sent me, so I’m sending you.’ Peter is to share Jesus’ task of shepherding. Peter was given the power to use as Jesus did – to heal and build-up, to forgive and to serve. Like Jesus, to be the Good Shepherd. As Jesus imitates his father we can imitate Jesus. We might ask ourselves how open are we to include others in our work in building up the Kingdom.
We have to obey God’s law over man’s because we know that is the right order of things. But God’s power is not used to command and control, but rather it forgives and liberates and invites us to share in God’s work of building the Kingdom of God. Jesus serves – he is not served. His example of service is the true and proper exercise of power. He gives the apostles on the beach the example of pasturing the flock as the Good Shepherd does. The words to Peter reveal this final commission – feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Peter’s failures had been the greatest, but he also experienced the greatest forgiveness and had always shown the most enthusiasm and loyalty. As a result, Jesus confirms him as the one who will show what it means to pastor and lead by love rather than by power and titles.
What are the things we need to be forgiven for? When have we betrayed our Lord and obeyed man’s will, even our own, instead of God? Imagine yourself walking on the beach and hearing Jesus ask you – do you love me? Perhaps, like Peter, Jesus is asking for the highest form of love and all we can offer is the love that we can offer – notice how even that little love we can afford is enough for Jesus to say ‘feed my sheep’. He does not give us a pat on the head and say ‘that’s alright, carry on as usual’? No – he makes us part of his ministry. He invites us to work with him. Isn’t that the greatest act of inclusion of all – not just to include someone as a passive bystander, but to actively include them as a co-worker – co-responsible for the project? That’s the sort of thing that can turn, as the Psalm says, one’s mourning into dancing, and isn’t that the most powerful thing?
We are also given power this week as we engage in the act of elections for a new government. Let’s pray today that we might vote for parties who have put forward people that have the knowledge and desire to serve the common good; let’s pray that we might have leaders who will use their power in the way Jesus showed us it should be used – not selfishly, but for the good of all. Because we can, like God, forgive much – but just being forgiven is not the whole story. It’s also about joining in building the Kingdom. One test we might use is who’s Kingdom are they building? Their own? Or the common good? Are they there to be served? Or to serve?
Let’s pray today for wisdom so that we might use our power wisely and well – and then let us trust in God. Amen.