Jesus’ Merciful Healing of Peter and Us, Third Sunday of Easter (C), April 10, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, New York, NY
Third Sunday of Easter, Year C
April 10, 2016
Acts 5:27-32, Ps 30, Rev 5:11-14, Jn 21:11-19

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

The Mercy Shown in Christ’s Post-Resurrection interaction with Peter

With the celebration of the Sacred Triduum and Easter two weeks ago and Divine Mercy Sunday last week, we are now certainly into the heart of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which, like all ecclesiastical holy years, is meant to influence in some way everything the Church does and how individual faithful Catholics go their normal living out of the faith. Normally today’s readings, especially Jesus’ dialogue with Peter in the Gospel, would give us a chance to talk extensively about the papacy and how the successors of St. Peter are called to continue the ministry entrusted to St. Peter to feed and tend Christ’s sheep and lambs, teaching them with Christ’s words, giving them Christ in the Sacraments, shepherding and guiding them how to hear Christ’s voice and follow him all the way to the eternal sheepfold. But looking at the readings today through the lens of the Year of Mercy, I would like to focus rather on how Christ through his tender mercy reconfirms St. Peter in his vocation and mission and what that means for the way the Lord wishes, one-on-one, to reestablish us in our mission.

Peter’s Betrayal

To appreciate the dialogue between Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel, we first have to go back to the dialogue they had on the night Jesus was betrayed. On Holy Thursday, after Jesus swore an oath and said, “One of you will betray me?,” the various apostles all said, “Surely not I, Lord!,” and Peter went so far as to say both “Even if all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be” and “Even if I should have to die for you, I would not deny you!” But Jesus told him, “This very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” (Mt 26:33-35). And that’s exactly what happened. Peter sincerely thought that he would die for the Lord — he tried to defend him in the Garden of Gethsemane with a knife, even cutting off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, but as Jesus had told him earlier in the Garden, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” (Mt 26:41) and we would just how weak Peter’s flesh was in the High Priest’s courtyard when in response to a conversation with a maid with an attitude, who recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples and noted his strong Galilean accent, Peter denied once, twice and a third time with an oath that he even knew who Jesus was. That’s when the cock crowed, when Jesus was brought out and looked at him, and Peter, remembering what Jesus had said, went out and wept bitterly. He who loved the Lord enough that he would be willing to die for him had cowardly denied even knowing him.

The pain of that experience was very much with Peter even after the Resurrection. In the words of today’s Psalm, the weeping that entered in with nightfall still hadn’t been turned into rejoicing at the dawn of the third day, his mourning had not yet changed into dancing. We know that Mary Magdalene, when she finally recognized Jesus as he called her by name in the Garden on Easter Sunday, rejoiced so much that she clung to his feet never wanted to let him go. The disciples on the road to Emmaus, as soon as they had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the Bread, ran seven miles uphill in pitch-black darkness, in order to share the joyful news of Jesus’ resurrection with the other disciples as soon as possible. And even though the evangelists tell us that the disciples rejoiced when they eventually recognized that Jesus wasn’t a ghost on Easter Sunday evening, Peter still harbored his humiliation and was struggling, because, in an experience to which many of us can relate, he couldn’t forgive himself for being a spiritual Benedict Arnold. That’s what Jesus needed to address.

Mercy in the Miraculous Catch of Fish

Jesus did it first in the miraculous catch of fish. Peter had gone back to what he knew well, probably to divert him from his sorrow in addition to getting some food. He and the other disciples worked all night and caught nothing. In the morning, a seeming stranger on the shore — whose appearance and it seems also his voice had changed after the Resurrection, told them to cast the net onto the other side of the boat. They did and caught an enormous draft of fish. That’s when St. John, who was present on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus originally called him and his brother John, Peter and his brother Andrew three years earlier recognized that it was the Lord. That original scene is highly significant to today’s story. Peter, Andrew, James and John had on that previous occasion worked all night and had caught nothing. They had come in, had cleaned their boats and net, and Peter had allowed Jesus to use his boat as a pulpit to move a little from the shore because the crowd was crushing him. After that favor, Jesus told Peter to put out into the deep water and lower his nets for a catch. Peter was almost certainly exhausted and ready to crash in his bed after having worked all night. Everything was clean. And Jesus’ command was basically crazy. Fish were caught in the Sea of Galilee at night in shallow water and this carpenter from Nazareth was telling him to go into deep water in broad daylight. It would have been as if Peter the Fisherman had told Jesus to use the hammer upside down when hammering in nails. But after protesting his fatigue and frustration that he had worked all night and caught nothing, Peter said, “At your word, I will lower the nets.” He rowed back out into deep water far from shore, lowered the nets, and caught such a miraculous draught of fish that the nets were about to break. When he finally made it back on shore, he fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be fishing for men!” (Lk 5:1-11). Jesus, in recapitulating this miracle after the resurrection, was essentially telling Peter, who was still a sinful man and very much felt the ongoing sting of his betrayal, that he still wanted him to be a fisher of men, giving him confidence that if he did what the Lord said, he would bring in huge numbers of fish. The number 153 of fish caught in today’s scene was not just a historical fact but a richly symbolic number, because 153 were the number of nations known at the time of Jesus as well as the number of known species of fish. Jesus was basically indicating through the unbroken nets of 153 large fish that they would catch every type of man and woman in every nation on earth.

Mercy in Jesus’ and Simon’s Dialogue

The second way Jesus reconstituted Peter in his mission was through the one-on-one dialogue after breakfast. Jesus didn’t call him “Peter,” the new name he had given him, because Peter felt anything other than a solid, firm “rock,” which is what Peter means. He went back to his birth name, Simon son of Jonah and asked him whether he loved him. Jesus wanted to give him three times to affirm his love to make up for the three times he had denied him. But there’s something much deeper going on as well, which we can only see in the original Greek of St. John’s account. When Jesus asks him, “Do you love me more than these?,” the word he uses for love is apagein, the same word he uses when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you” and “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Agape means a total self-sacrificial type of love, the type of love Peter thought he had for Jesus on Holy Thursday, a love willing to die for the one loved. Jesus asked Peter if he had that type of total love. But Peter, still wounded by the memories of his own weakness, wouldn’t exercise what he must have deemed bravado again. His weak flesh was too apparent. So when he replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” the word he used for love was not agapein, but philein, meaning the love between friends. In other words, he said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you as a friend.” Jesus asked him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me with a total self-sacrificial love?” and Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you as a friend.” So Jesus in his third approach downgraded the level of commitment and said, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me with philia?” That’s why Peter was stung the third time. It was like he had betrayed the Lord again, that he couldn’t even commit to loving him to the point of death. And so he replied, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you as a friend.” But Jesus wasn’t going to leave him there nursing his wounds. Jesus wanted to strengthen him for his mission. So he gave a powerful prophecy. “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, [an idiom that in Greek means to be crucified] and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” That’s why St. John comments, “He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” And then Jesus concluded the dialogue by saying the words he had said to him when he had first made him a fisher of men: “Follow me.” And Peter would in fact follow him all the way until his own crucifixion, upside down, in the Circus of Caligula and Nero in the ancient area of the Vatican in October of 64 AD.

The Way Peter, Forgiven, Courageously Showed His Love for Christ in Passing on his Message of Mercy

Peter, rehabilitated by Christ’s tender mercy and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, would begin to lay down his life for Christ, to show his agapic love for the Lord by the way he would feed and tend his sheep and lambs. In today’s first reading, we see how much Peter was willing to suffer for Jesus. This scene is the third time Peter had been arrested and interrogated by the same members of the Sanhedrin whom a couple of months before had conspired to have Jesus brutally tortured and crucified, by the same men who would soon have St. Stephen stoned to death. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that they had repeatedly told Peter and the other apostles not to speak about the name of Jesus at all and had multiply imprisoned them for doing so. They threateningly asked in today’s passage, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name?” The members of the Sanhedrin couldn’t even mention the name of Jesus, but the apostles couldn’t stop from mentioning that saving name everywhere. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” So, trying to dissuade them from doing so, they had them flogged — meaning scourged like Jesus was scourged — and commanded them again to shut up. Peter and the apostles’ response was not to capitulate, not to allow their weak, lacerated flesh to get the upper hand and render them mute, but rather they left “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the same of the name” of Jesus. It was a dramatic turnaround made possible by the light of the Resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit: they knew that if Crucifixion didn’t have the last word against Jesus but that he rose triumphantly on the third day, then there was nothing of which they should really be afraid. So they gave witness of the need for “repentance and forgiveness of sins” even before those who needed to repent and receive God’s mercy for conspiring to have Jesus crucified or to extirpate his name. And they were able to do so because they themselves had repented and received that mercy they were announcing and bringing to the world, that mercy that Simon, Son of Jonah, had received from the Lord, who chose to establish his whole Church on the rock of his mercy changing Peter’s life and making it possible for him to feed and tend his precious lambs and sheep.

Learning from this Scene What Christ wishes to do for us after our betrayals

What can all of us learn from this scene? What must each of us learn from this scene? We, just like Peter, have so many times betrayed the Lord. Like him, we probably never explicitly intended to deny him, but because our weak flesh trumped our willing spirit, so often we have. Some of us have betrayed him on Sundays, putting other things — whether sleep or work — more important than responding to his eager desire to be with us, to speak to us, to feed us. Some of us have betrayed him in refusing to care for him when he was poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, ill or imprisoned, or otherwise in need. Some of us have betrayed him by choosing Barabbas over him in a relationship that wasn’t ordered to him or failing to be faithful to a bond that was ordered to him. Some of us have betrayed him by refusing to acknowledge him whether others were blaspheming against his name or mocking his Bride the Church. All of us have betrayed him in putting other gods of one form or another above him. But Jesus doesn’t give up on us. Just like he reconstituted Peter in his vocation and mission after his fall, so Jesus wanted to reestablish us in our baptismal vocation and mission, or in our priestly vocation or mission, or in our matrimonial vocation and mission. He wants to engage in a one-on-one conversation, which he does in prayer and especially in the one-on-one dialogue of the Sacrament of Penance, to give us a chance to ask for his forgiveness and allow him by his mercy to impart to us resurrection through reconciliation. He wants to ask us, “Roger, Mary, John, Elizabeth, do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than everything else? Do you love me with the total self-sacrificial type of love with which I love you and want to send my Holy Spirit into you to help you to achieve?” He wants to remind us that through our baptism he gives us the same gift of courage that he gave to Peter and the apostles, so that we might obey God above all, so that we might not be intimidated when others seek to shame us, or imprison us, or flog us, or even kill us. He wants to help us to love him with a total self-sacrificial type of love in the way that we cast our nets for others and in the way we care for the sheep and lambs who have come into the fold.

The Even Better Breakfast Jesus prepares for us

To make all of this possible, Jesus comes to meet us today. He doesn’t prepare for us a breakfast on the seashore of toast and fish but rather he gives us his Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine. As he tells us to do this in memory of him, he’s strengthening us from the inside to love others as he loves us, giving our body and blood for them, and together with that total sacrifice feeding and tending them with the same loving concern with which the Good Shepherd has tended and fed us through the Church. He asks us today whether we love him and today we have the chance to say, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you with a total self-sacrificial agapic love,” so that he can reconstitute us, help us to care for others especially those who are wounded, and send us out to all nations and all types of human beings and bring them all in with the Church’s untearable net, so that here on earth and forever in heaven, we might adore the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the World, the “Lamb who was slain” who is “worthy … to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing, … forever and ever. … Amen!”

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 5:27-32, 40B-41

When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders, did we not,
to stop teaching in that name?
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles
to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.
So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin,
rejoicing that they had been found worthy
to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

Responsorial Psalm PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13

R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 REV 5:11-14

I, John, looked and heard the voices of many angels
who surrounded the throne
and the living creatures and the elders.
They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength,
honor and glory and blessing.”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth
and under the earth and in the sea,
everything in the universe, cry out:
“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever.”
The four living creatures answered, “Amen,”
and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ is risen, creator of all;
he has shown pity on all people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 21:1-19

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being 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?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a 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.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

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