3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER -C- MAY 1, 2022

Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5: 11-14; John 21: 1-19

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Several years ago during Lent I preached in two New York parishes. Even with 14 inches of snow the locals were talking about the upcoming baseball season. The Yankee fans were rather smug and confident about their prospects. But the long-suffering Mets fans had a hint of fatalism about them. At the door of the church a departing worshiper was wearing a Mets cap and I asked him if he had thrown in a prayer for the Mets enduring mass. "You bet," he said, "I hope they get it right this time!"

That baseball fan could have been speaking about the disciples in today’s gospel. The story seems to be a replay of an earlier moment when they first responded to Jesus’ invitation, "Follow me." Well, they did follow him, but it was not the best "season" for them – it started well, but ended terribly. Peter, who is featured in today’s narrative, had struck out by denying Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27). (Hope I am not pushing the baseball metaphor too far!) Let’s hope Peter and the other disciples get it right this time.

At first, Jesus’ questions to Peter sound like an ego trip. Why would Jesus need to be reassured three times of Peter’s love for him? But when we reflect on the gospel story, especially the Passion narrative, the answer is obvious. The one who denied Jesus three times is now being offered reconciliation by a triple affirmation of love.

We may find ourselves Peter’s boatmates. As we look over our recent past we too might count one, two or three times we have denied Jesus by our words or actions. At the beginning of today’s Eucharist we had an opportunity for a three-fold request for mercy when we prayed, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." That was our Peter-moment, our chance to be reminded of Jesus’ love for us, even though we are sinners. It was also an opportunity, despite our recent missteps, to say in return, "Lord you know everything, you know that I love you."

But the conversation with Jesus doesn’t end with their reconciliation, nor does it stop there for us. With Peter we listen in to what follows. Jesus gives Peter a life plan for the future: he is to feed Jesus’ lambs and tend his sheep. Peter will do just that and, as we hear in today’s first reading, he will be dragged before the Sanhedrin for witnessing to Jesus’ name. Actually Peter didn’t have to take on the mission Jesus gave him all by himself. He had the presence of the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus with him, as well as the company of the other disciples. Like Peter we also have others who work with us in the church. They give us example, encouragement and support as we try to respond, in our own unique ways, to Jesus’ mandate to feed and tend his flock.

But let’s remember that Peter and the others didn’t do very well in their first attempts to follow Jesus and his way. Are they being set up for another "strike out?" Not according to the selection from Acts, as we hear about Peter’s courageous stand before the Sanhedrin. What made the difference? It certainly wasn’t just teamwork with the others. This time Peter was not on his own. He tells the Sanhedrin that he has another witness with him – the Holy Spirit. Last week when the risen Christ appeared to the disciples locked behind closed doors, he bade them peace and then breathed the Holy Spirit into them (John 20:19-31). And that made all of the difference in Peter and the disciples’ lives. Standing with him, as Peter tells the Sanhedrin, was another witness, the Holy Spirit, "whom God has given to those who obey God."

What a change the Spirit would make in Peter’s life! He would go from guilt to reconciliation with Christ, and under the Spirit’s influence, now he and the other disciples could offer the same forgiveness they had received. They would do for others what Jesus had done for them. And more! Like Jesus, they would heal the sick; reach out to the Gentiles; eat with society’s outcasts and offer peace to friends and opponents as well.

Does the large catch a fish symbolize all those of us who would be caught up in the net the once-fishermen and women cast out in Jesus’ name? We recognize and understand the significance of the food Jesus offered the disciples at the Sea of Tiberius, don’t we? The bread is reminiscent of the bread Jesus multiplied earlier in this gospel. It is his life given for our nourishment and offered again to us at this Eucharist in his Body and Blood. All of us are forgiven and nourished here – and still more! We, like the disciples, will receive the life-giving and renewing Spirit again when our presider extends hands over us and the gifts and prays, "...we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration."

If we met the risen Lord today, as the disciples did that day by the lakeside, I wonder what he would ask us church folk first? "How many people have you enrolled in this parish?" "How is the renovation of the church hall going?" "How is the new principal working out?" Etc. While these are not insignificant concerns still, I think he would first ask his triple-question, "Do you love me?" At this Eucharist we are making Peter’s response, as best we can, "You know everything Lord, you know that I love you." Based on today’s Scriptures I think I know what Jesus would do next. He would give himself to us as food and renew us in his Spirit.

Then, because love always involves responsibility, he would add, "Since you love me, now go out and tend and feed my sheep." If we respond, "Yes," when he asks if we love him, then how can we refuse to also say "Yes" when we encounter another’s need – the sick, lonely, or wounded, sorrowing and defeated? "If you love me, take care of my people...," should echo in our spirits. And there in our spirits the Holy Spirit waits to help us witness to Jesus’s words and deeds.

There is a cost to responding to Jesus’ renewed invitation today. He names it for Peter and for us. He tells Peter that when he gets older someone will tie his hands and lead him to a place he would not go. The allusion seems to be to Peter’s future suffering and death because of his witness to Christ. The first reading hints to what’s ahead for Peter and the others. So many of them were martyred for their faith. And what about us, are we willing to be taken where we do not always wish to go because of Jesus and his invitation, "Follow me?"

As we mature in faith, ("when you grow old"), where might the road take us? Forgiving long-held hurts; reaching out to the least popular; rejecting the current majority opinion; simplifying our lifestyle to provide for others; shifting our schedules to include helping others; sharing our professional skills with those who can’t pay; forgoing career opportunities in favor of our families, etc.?

We have almost 2000 years of examples of those who were stellar in their response to Jesus. Each of us also has up-close examples of family members, neighbors and other parishioners whose Christian lives have also been stellar – perhaps not on the world’s stage, but certainly in the spotlight of our lives. We know how profoundly these people have responded to the invitation Jesus gave his disciples, "Follow me... feed my lambs... tend my sheep." Many of them made sacrifices and went to places they might not otherwise have gone. But by their example they showed us what good can come to the world because faithful ones, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, gave witness to Jesus’ name – as Peter reminds the Sanhedrin and us today.

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