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Reflections for the III Sunday of Easter

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the third Sunday in Easter time. He says that the Gospel shows us God in search of man, even when man tries to evade Him.

Introduction: Today’s Gospel narrative shows us the rehabilitation of Peter, who denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of Caiaphas, repented, and then received Primacy in the Church from Jesus. The Gospel also shows us God in search of man, even when man tries to evade Him.

Homily starter anecdoteDo you love meFiddler on the Roof is a musical by Harnick which had 3000 Broadway performances. It is based on the book Tevye and his Daughters by Joseph Stein, set in Tsarist Russia in 1905. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters who owned a milk business, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. Finally, he had to move out of his village because of the edict of the reigning Tsar who evicted the Jews from their village. There is a very tender and moving scene in the play, Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye and his wife Golda are being forced to move from their home in Russia. One day Tevye comes into the house and asks his wife, "Golda, do you love me?" "Do I what?" "Do you love me?" Golda looks at him and then responds: "Do I love you? With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town, you're upset, you're worn out, go inside, go lie down, maybe it's indigestion." Tevye interrupts and asks the question, "Golda, do you love me?" Golda sighs as she looked at him and says, "Do I love you? For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cows. After 25 years, why talk of love right now?" Tevye answers by saying, "Golda, the first time I met you was on our wedding day. I was scared, I was shy, I was nervous." "So was I," said Golda. "But my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other,” Tevye continued, “and now I'm asking, Golda, do you love me?" "Do I love him?" Golda sighs. "For 25 years I've lived with him, fought with him, 25 years my bed is his! If that's not love, what is?" "Then you love me?" Tevye asks. "I suppose I do!" she says. "And I suppose I love you too!" he says. "It doesn't change a thing, but after 25 years it's nice to know." "Do you love me?" is the same question Jesus is asking Peter in the closing scene of the Gospel of John. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us how the Holy Spirit transformed Peter, whom Jesus had appointed head of his Church, from a man fearful of powerful men into a brave witness to the Resurrection. Peter stands before the Jewish Supreme Court – the Sanhedrin -- boldly announcing that he and the others must obey God rather than men. The second reading, taken from Revelation (the Apocalypse), presents John’s vision of the Risen Lord as the glorified “Lamb of God,” enthroned in Heaven.  The whole of Revelation is an expression of Christian hope in the Risen Lord. Today’s Gospel tells the post-Resurrection story of our merciful Savior Who goes in search of His band of disappointed and dejected disciples.   The incident proves that Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances were not mere hallucinations.  In the first part of today’s Gospel, the risen Jesus appears to His disciples and gives them a symbol of their mission in a miraculous catch of fish followed by a grilled fish breakfast prepared by Jesus himself. The second part is a dialogue between Jesus and Simon where Simon is asked three times whether he loves Jesus, and he answers that he does, as if in reparation for his triple denial of Jesus.  The two metaphors used in the story, namely fishing and shepherding, are the duties of the Church in her missionary work. Peter, as a forgiven sinner, is chosen for the quality of his love to serve as leader in a community of brothers and sisters. As his primary mission, Peter is given the care of the vulnerable lambs and sheep, and he is told that fidelity to this mission will lead him to martyrdom.

First reading (Acts 5:27-32, 40-41), explained: This reading describes how the post -Pentecost Apostles reacted when the Jewish leaders tried to stop them from preaching about Jesus.  The Apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin and ordered to stop teaching in the name of Jesus.   This was the second time they had been arrested by the Sanhedrin -- the Jewish Supreme Court.   When the High Priest demanded that Peter and his companions listen to him and obey his orders, Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Then they testified to God’s raising of Jesus as Savior “to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.” Although they were flogged and given strict order not to repeat the “crime,” the Apostles went away “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name.”

Second reading (Rev 5:11-14), explained: This is John's description of the vision given him of the praise offered to the risen Jesus by all those in Heaven, on earth, under the earth and in the sea.  In Heaven, angels and other spiritual beings sing praises around God's throne. In God's hand is a sealed scroll. A voice asks, “Who is worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals?"   Then the risen Jesus is pictured as a slain Lamb who stands before the throne of God in Heaven.  Those in Heaven praise him by saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.”  Like the suffering, innocent lamb of Isaiah, Jesus is vindicated by God. This passage gave the early Christians the message that the only lord worthy of worship is the risen “Lord Jesus Christ” (and not the Roman emperor).Jesus’ once-and-for-all-sacrifice as the ultimate Passover Lamb has made it possible for every forgiven sinner and faithful believer to pass from death to life. At every Eucharistic celebration, the worthy and victorious Lamb of God is invoked three times as the gathered assembly admits its need for forgiveness: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. . . grant us peace.”

Gospel exegesis: The risen Jesus in Galilee: The primary purposes in recounting this appearance of the Risen Christ to his Apostles were to rehabilitate Peter who had denied Jesus three times, but then had repented, and to stress the actual conferring of Primacy in the Church on Peter. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus appears to the women saying, "Go tell my brethren that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there."  It seems that the risen Christ had a specific purpose in seeing His apostles in Galilee.  It was there that He had begun his own mission and recruited His Apostles. It was His purpose to confer the Apostolic mission on Peter and the apostles in Galilee.   We realize that the risen Jesus was the One who planned and directed the missionary activities of the early Church.  We can be certain that the Risen Lord Himself leads and directs his Church today, through the encouragement, guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit, as He did for the Apostles and has done for their successors, down through the ages in their missionary endeavors. [Scholars disagree on whether the author responsible for the first twenty chapters of John also wrote Chapter 21. The fourth Gospel may have originally ended with chapter 20.  If so, Chapter 21 was added later to clear up some ambiguities about the roles that Peter and John were to exercise in their first-century Christian communities.]

Back to the sea for fishing: Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel shows Peter returning to his old way of life, trying, perhaps, to forget the disastrous events of the crucifixion of his master. Six other apostles join him:  Thomas the doubter, the two hotheaded sons of Zebedee, the faithful and loyal Nathaniel, and two others who are not named.  Although John mentions that “it was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead" (v. 14), this is actually the fourth appearance.  The first was to Mary of Magdala (20:11-17).  The second was to the disciples without Thomas (20:19-23).  The third was to Thomas and the disciples (20:26-29).  This post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus reminds us of an earlier incident in his ministry, namely the call of Peter and the other disciples after their night of fishing in the Sea of Galilee.  (Fishermen often worked at night in order to be able to sell the freshest possible fish at the market in the morning). In both instances, Jesus asks the disciples to cast their nets into the sea a second time.   In both cases they catch a large number of fish, and in both incidents   Jesus invites Peter to follow him. “The Fathers and Doctors of the Church have often dwelt on the mystical meaning of this episode: the boat is the Church, whose unity is symbolized by the net which is not torn; the sea is the world, Peter in the boat stands for supreme authority of the Church, and the number of fish signifies the number of the elect (The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries).

Eucharistic meal with the Risen Lord: The return of the apostles to their old occupation sets up the next stage of their conversion.  Eventually, they come to understand that the stranger on the shore directing them to a tremendous catch of fish actually is “the Lord.”  They recognize him while they are doing what they have always done. Immediately afterwards, the disciples eat a meal with Jesus.  Though later followers of Jesus narrowed the Eucharist into a formal ritual in which everyone shares a small piece of consecrated Bread and a sip of consecrated Wine, his first disciples celebrated his resurrected presence with a complete meal. Jesus authenticated their work by adding to the meal some of the fish they had caught.  It was at this point that they realized that their “Lord” was among them, imparting to them the experience of his glorified presence.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus opens his ministry with a miracle of abundance at Cana (2:1-11), and closes his ministry with another miracle of abundance on the Sea of Tiberius (21:4-6). "Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish" (21: 13).  This wording has Eucharistic overtones, but there is no mention of the blessing or breaking of bread, both of which are part of the usual Eucharistic formula.  This is also reminiscent of the earlier feeding of the five thousand on the shores of this same sea (6:1-15).  Jesus is sensitive both to people's physical and to their spiritual needs.   Since then, the Church has followed Jesus' example by feeding, clothing, housing, and educating people.  Our concern for people's physical needs not only relieves human suffering, but also constitutes a powerful spiritual witness.

The triple confession and commissioning of Peter: One of the features of the stories about the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection is that they nearly always end up with Jesus commissioning someone.  Jesus appears for a purpose.  The presence of Jesus is strongly linked with the sense of calling.  Peter denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus' arrest (18:17, 25, 27), and repented; now, Jesus is offering him three chances to redeem himself.  Jesus first dealt with Peter’s sin and then commissioned him to work on His behalf.  Jesus asks twice if Peter loves him with the deeper, stronger, and more sacrificial kind of agape love and not mere phileo love involving brotherly love or friendship.  In any event, "the one thing about which Jesus questioned Peter prior to commissioning him to tend the flock, was love.  This is the basic qualification for Christian service.  Other qualities may be desirable, but love is completely indispensable (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3).” (Paul Avent, Study John's Gospel, Volume II). By this triple confession, Peter is restored to the leadership position from which he had fallen by his triple denial.  Furthermore, it is proclaimed that Peter is indeed a pastor, who is to show his love for Christ in feeding Christ’s sheep, a recycling of denial into affirmation.  Peter’s rehabilitation is a celebration of Divine Grace.  As the shepherd appointed by the True Shepherd, to do as He did, to care for the sheep, Peter also symbolizes leadership.   “Feed My lambs,” will continue to be the agenda of the post-Resurrection Church until the risen Lord appears in glory.  

Peter’s martyrdom foretold: Finally, Jesus says that Peter will glorify God by his death just as Jesus has glorified God by his (v. 19; see also 7:39; 12:16; 13:31-32; 14:13; 17:1-5).  "Stretch out your hands" sounds like crucifixion, and by the time of the writing of this Gospel Peter had been martyred, probably by crucifixion in Rome.  Legend has it that he asked to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to emulate his Lord, although evidence for this legend is weak.

Apostles’ experience and our experience:  Just as Peter recognizes the risen Lord and leaps into the waters, so Christians profess their Faith in the risen Jesus and are baptized in water and the Spirit. Just as the first disciples share a meal with the risen Jesus, so we now regularly share the Eucharist with Him. And just as the risen Jesus commissions Peter to undertake a pastoral mission on his behalf, so the natural consequence of Baptism and the Eucharist for us is to share ourselves and our Faith with others.

Life messages:1) We need to open our eyes, ears and hearts wide to see, hear and experience the Risen Lord coming to our life in various forms, circumstances and events.

A) The Risen Lord gives us success and achievements: We often fail to acknowledge the presence of the risen Jesus behind our unexpected victories, great achievements, job promotions, miraculous healings and success in relationships.  Let us not foolishly attribute a success in our career only to hard work; our good health only to daily exercise coupled with moderation in food and drink; and our sound financial position only to frugal spending habit and good management of money.  Let us remember the Divine warnings, “Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5); and “If the Lord does not build the house, the work of the builders is useless” (Ps.127: 1).

B) The Risen Lord is present in our pain and suffering:  Acts 9:1-13 tells us how the Risen Lord transformed the life of Saul by pushing him down onto the Damascus road and making him temporarily blind.  The same Jesus often visits us in the form of accidents, illnesses, the loss of dear ones, pain and suffering, and problems in relationships.  When Cardinal Bernadine was hospitalized for the surgical removal of his gall bladder and one of his kidneys to arrest the growth of pancreatic cancer, he said: “Cancer augmented my Faith in the presence of the Risen Jesus as actively involved in my life.  I could experience Him in the hospital room more than any time in my busy pastoral life” Bishop Desmond Tutu who was losing the battle against prostate cancer, spoke of how the disease had given him new ears and new eyes to see things and hear things he had so taken for granted – the love of one’s spouse, the Beethoven symphony, the dew on the rose, the laughter on the face of a grandchild.

C) The Risen Lord is visiting us in our friends and well-wishers: He is present in those who visit us and encourage us in our sad and desperate moments.  The Risen Lord visits us in the form of unexpected help from the least expected persons in our dire needs.  He is right there in our parties and celebrations and occasions of rejoicing.

D) The Risen Lord is present in our Christian worship. He is present on our altars during the Holy Mass to share his life with us; he is present in the words of Holy Scripture; he is there in the Sacraments and he is there where two or three are gathered in his name (Matthew 18:20).

2) We need to work with the Risen Lord and plan all our activities with his blessing, after consulting him in prayer and receiving his instruction.  Let us pray that we may be a Church that continues in that Gospel lifestyle of fishing for people, of tending the sheep and feeding them with the word of life.

3) Let us compensate for our moments of weakness by genuine acts of love, compassion and service.  Peter was called upon to prove   his love:  "If you love me, feed my sheep." The same Risen Lord reminds us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). What do our present actions and activities say about our love for Christ?  The Risen Jesus accepts our apology, dismisses the charges against us, exonerates us of guilt, and forgives all our weaknesses.  He   continues to challenge us to demonstrate our love for him by faithfully, freely, feeding his sheep entrusted to our care. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

02 May 2019, 09:38