3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR C ON MAY 5, 2019 (R. 1: Acts 5: 27- 32, 40b- 41; Psalm 30: 2, 4- 6, 11- 13; R. 2: Revelation 5: 11- 14 Gospel: John 21: 1- 19)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
COME FOLLOW ME!
When I was much younger, there was something that troubled me about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Jesus turned water to wine, cleansed lepers, raised the dead and even rose from the dead himself. But I wondered why he still had the nail scars on his hands after the resurrection. If he performed all those great miracles, why could he not just take away those scars and come out scarless from the tomb? I recently got the answer to my question: Jesus left the scars to tell us that the Jesus who went to the tomb is the same Jesus who came out of the tomb; he left the scars to show that there is a permanent connection between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Without one, there cannot be the other. As such, for us who follow and worship Jesus, we are called to follow and worship not only the Easter Sunday Jesus but also the Good Friday Jesus.
Today’s Gospel passage is the story of the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his apostles. After the events of the Passover Week in Jerusalem, the Apostles returned to what they were used to, to the Sea of Galilee fishing. They returned to where and what they were used to before receiving the call from Jesus. Peter was the one who led them back to where they started. He was probably doing well as a fisherman when Jesus called him to become a fisher of men and women. But he had just failed in that. He failed when he gave an answer that made Jesus to tell him, “Get behind me, Satan!” He failed when he denied his Master three times. He was still recovering from Good Friday. Since he failed as a fisher of men/women, he decided to go back to his comfort zone, catching fish. But how successful was that? He toiled all night but caught nothing. Then Jesus showed up.
At the end of the story, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me…?” There are many commentaries on what is going on here. A prominent interpretation is that Jesus is giving to Peter the opportunity to undo the three times he denied Jesus during his trial. Scott Hann points out that there are two charcoal fires mentioned in the Scripture. One was on Holy Thursday in the High Priest’s courtyard where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times while he was warming himself along with some slave girl and guards. The other charcoal fire is in today’s Gospel passage where the apostles came back to the shore to find fish and bread being cooked on the fire. At the first charcoal fire, Peter sinned, and at this second charcoal fire, Peter repents and is forgiven. Our God is the God of a second chance.
A few more details about the dialogue at the end of today’s passage: in the English rendition of this passage, Jesus asked, “…do you love me?” and Peter responds with “…I love you.” But in Greek, different words for love are used. The first two times, Jesus used the verb agapao, which refers to that perfect and unconditional love that is total self-giving and inclusive. But in both cases, Peter responds with the verb phileo, which refers to the love of friends coming from natural emotions. At the third time, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and used the verb phileo. (English has only one word for love, but to help our illustration, we can imagine something like this: For the first two times, Jesus asked, “…do you love me?” Peter responded, “…yes, I like you.” The third time, Jesus asked, “…do you like me?” Then Peter responded, “…yes… I like you”). What is happening here? Peter must have learned from experience. You remember when Jesus predicted what would happen to him in Jerusalem, Peter had presumed how strong his love was. On the night of the Last Supper, Peter had told Jesus that he was ready to die for Jesus even if all the others failed. Now he remembers how he could not keep that promise. And so as Jesus is asking him about love, he is humble enough to confess that he is not capable to love perfectly as demanded by Jesus. After Peter’s acknowledgment of his limitations, Jesus then comes down to his level to ask with the verb phileo rather than agapao.
Here, Jesus addresses Peter as “Simon Son of John.” I don’t know about you, but when I was much younger, whenever my mom all of a sudden called me by my full name (Emmanuel Inedu Friday Sebastian Ochigbo), I knew there was trouble. What Jesus is doing here is reminding Peter of his past as a natural man, especially of his denial, of his failure. Then he invites Peter to move from nature to grace. As long as Peter relied on his natural strength and wisdom, he was sure to fail, but when he allows the grace of God, he will be the perfect instrument. He worked all night and caught no fish, but when he listened to Jesus, with one throw, he caught so many. Jesus then gave Peter the responsibility to feed his sheep. Yes, such a man like Peter who fell and has come to terms with his fall is the right man for the job; he has learned very well from his fall and so can strengthen the weak sheep and feed the hungry ones. Then, Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter is not the only one who failed. The other apostles also failed. Maybe some of us if not all of us have failed in several ways. At times everything seems to be moving fine, then all of a sudden we find ourselves back where we started. Perhaps, you were in a very promising relationship and just at the point when you were expecting the great question, “Will you marry me?” then you are greeted with a break-up. It could be that weight loss program comprising of exercise and a healthy diet, and all of a sudden, something happens, and you lose interest. Maybe you went to confession, and you seem to have fallen again. Jesus is on the shore; he is calling you. He has some fish and bread already warming up, but he also asks you to come with the fish you have caught, to come as you are. When he asked Peter three times about love, he also implied, “Peter, in spite of your failures, do you still know that you love me? Do you know I can work with your imperfection if you let me?” Jesus sees beyond our failures; he knows what is beneath our denial just like he saw the potentials hidden in Peter’s weakness. What you are experiencing is either a blessing a lesson. Do you see yourself as a failure? Jesus has a simple message for you, “Follow me.”
Remember, he does not call the qualified; he qualifies those he calls. A bad day is not equal to a bad life. You might have done something bad, but that does not mean that you are a bad person. Remember, “Failing is not a disgrace unless you make it the last chapter of your book.”