THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER 2019
Through his three years of ministering to the crowds, Jesus was also teaching his Apostles preparing them to follow in his footsteps to evangelize the world after his Ascension. The Apostles frequently demonstrated their human failings as they misunderstood Jesus’ words or were unable to follow his instructions. However, Jesus trusted in them, knowing that they would become dynamic leaders once the Holy Spirit came down upon them to preach his words, forgive sins, cure the sick and cast out demons. It is the infusion of the Holy Spirit that gives the Apostles the courage to meet any obstacle in their mission to evangelize. In the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s transformation was the most dramatic of the Apostles.
In reading the Scriptures when we first encounter Peter, he demonstrates some not too appealing attributes. He is egotistical, arrogant, and authoritative. He is bull-head attempting to go his way only to discover that Jesus is the one who shows the way. In Luke’s Gospel story, after a night of catching no fish, Jesus tells Peter to, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Peter “said in reply, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command, I will lower the nets’” (Luke 5:5). Peter begrudgingly complied with Jesus instructions to throw out his nets after a fishless night thinking, ‘This man is a carpenter, not a fisherman. Whom does he think he is telling me how to fish?’ He is then amazed when they haul in a catch that almost tore the nets.
After Jesus’ Resurrection and the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit, we begin to notice changes in Peter. In John’s Gospel from today, he makes no objections when Christ tells him to lower his nets after another night of catching no fish. Jesus, while still not an expert fisherman, like Peter, knows where the fish are in the sea.
Peter has become a man of humility, finally aware that all that he is comes from the power of the Lord. Jesus, knowing the underlying faith of Peter places his trust in him assured that he would lead the Church in its evangelization to all the people of the world. In our humility, we too must recognize how dependent we are in Jesus who is our guide to bring us to the shores of the Kingdom.
Humility is the hardest but most important lesson for Peter, and us to learn. Many times we wonder whom God permits so many hardships and failures in our lives. Often God allows these situations to occur so that we may come to realize, as Peter did, that we are limited in our capabilities as humans. We are not God. In accepting our dependency upon God, we come to know his sole desire is to help us to change our lifestyle, our thoughts, and actions so that we can enter his heavenly Kingdom. When we come to that joyful awareness, then we can place our trust in the Lord who leads us from all temptation.
Peter also shows us his humanness in being fearful when confronted with death. As Jesus predicted at the Last Supper, Peter would deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Even though Peter had promised that he would die for Jesus, Peter could not even to say he was one of Jesus’ Apostles because he feared his death.
Returning John’s Gospel on the shore, by the sea, we observe Peter now has dismissed his fears about the future. Once he fled from Jesus, to assure that he would not be crucified. Now he eagerly seeks to draw closer to the Lord, for he realizes that it is only through Jesus that he will have life. Peter now has no hesitations and no fears because he knows now that he can trust in the Lord without question. Peter fearlessly jumps into the sea so that he can be with his Lord instead of waiting for the boat to land on the beach. Peter emerges from the water wet, bedraggled, and overjoyed to be with Jesus. Jesus has won Pete’s heart.
Peter, reflecting on his infidelity, now questions whether he has the qualifications to be the rock upon whom Jesus would build his Church. He has exhibited the most unworthy characteristics of a leader. However, Jesus’ trust in Peter never wavers. Jesus gives Peter a chance to atone for his betrayal by verbally expressing his love. Even though knowing he has wronged, Peter emerged from his contrition in elation, as we do from the confessional, with joy in the heart at given another chance to be faithful to the Lord. Jesus confirms Peter’s status in asking if Peter loves him three times. For each “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” Jesus commands him to be the shepherd, the leader of the flock with words “Feed my sheep.”
The heart of Christ is full of hopes for us just as he wanted Peter to be the rock upon which his Church would be built. Peter and the other Apostles would be imprisoned, beaten, and murdered to protect the flock. Jesus hopes that we, his flock, will never stray far from him even if we may also need to follow him down some difficult paths. Peter, once so afraid of death, would boldly walk to his own crucifixion in Rome fulfilling his words from the Last Supper, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:35).
Peter shows us our human failings. Like him, we fall into sin, acknowledge our sin, and become remorseful. Jesus then approaches us, as he did with Peter mercifully giving us relief from our sins. We are reinstated into his grace. With our heartfelt expression of love for him in his mercy, we then strive to live out his will. Can we follow Jesus, trusting as Peter did to live out the words, “You know I love you,”?
Deacon Dan Gilbert