Third Sunday of Easter Year C
It is the most profound, beautiful and most deeply personal question we can ever ask or be asked by anyone: ‘do you love me?’ I wonder if you can recall ever being asked this question in your own experience by a loved one, or by a close friend.
We are not very articulate and would rather show our love to others by our actions. We squirm at American sit-coms or family soaps where the phrase is used so readily. We become tongue-tied and embarrassed; avoid eye-contact at the thought. To whom can we say confidently and readily ‘I love you’? We might say it to a child, but rarely to an adult. When did we last say it to a parent, or a spouse? We excuse ourselves saying, ‘they know it already.’
It’s a tough question because we feel it is also a question that leads to further commitment if it being asked of us. We feel threatened to our own security and wants. What is the other person implying by asking it? What is it they are looking for? We would rather change the subject!
Peter is asked this very question by Jesus three times. Why did Jesus ask it?
Peter had run from the Cross and had denied Jesus three times by the charcoal fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Cursing and swearing He cried I tell you I do not know Him. And then the cock crew. Now, here to prick his conscience at early morning by the fire – with bread and fish, with a miraculous draught, and asking for is love three times, Jesus reminds Peter all that He has done for him and implicitly forgives him by commissioning him to go forth and feed the lambs. Peter has to be fed by Christ by love and prayer first.
Jesus is telling Peter that out of love for Him he must hand over his fate to the Lord in his service. John was writing this account after Peter had died a martyr’s death in Rome by crucifixion. Jesus sees the potential in all of us too to do great things for Him and out of love for Him in the Church and in the world as His witnesses, but we all have to come to that point where we have to answer the question for ourselves – the leap, as it were, to an adult faith, by answering the question Jesus asks of Peter today and which is extended to all of us - you and me - ‘Do YOU love Me?’
Complete surrender to Christ is asked and demanded of each of us, but we fall and linger as Peter and the disciples did. They went back fishing, which shows a falling away from trust and complete confidence. Once more Jesus shows them (half of the 12 apostles) but particularly Peter who He addresses as Simon, his old name before becoming a disciple, how little they can accomplish without Him. All their work, effort, toil, and experience – even as a team – achieves nothing without Christ’s word and instruction.
The story makes clear that nothing can be accomplished by our own efforts in the darkness because we toil without Christ. But with Him, attentive to His voice, we can accomplish wonders. Christ is the light. We must cultivate our love for Him in prayer. He gives us a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning and especially CLARITY. But first we must answer the question that Christ puts to each one of us this morning – DO YOU LOVE ME?
It was then out of friendship and love with Christ – the driving force of his life that Peter accomplished so much as the first Pope and leader of the Church. Peter leaped into the water and drew near once more to Christ. We see in the First Reading what Peter was capable of just weeks later having received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - the festival of the first fruits of the harvest for the Jews - now becomes the first fruits of the Church as 3,000 converts were added to the early Church in a single day after Peter gave resounding and fearless witness.
"Follow me." The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock.
We pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict – who is celebrating 5 years as Pope tomorrow and who celebrated his 83rd birthday during this past week, and who preached on this very Gospel [before becoming Pope] as he reflected on the life of Pope John Paul II as his funeral homily.
Christ the Lord is looking for something only you can give Him – your free heart. He knows our future – just as He predicted to Peter but He still wants us to follow Him no matter what happens, and what future 'suffering for His name’ (First Reading) awaits us.
MAY OUR RESPONSE BE – YES LORD, YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU!