(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 14)
The night was dark in many ways. Jesus and Peter were in the courtyard though not together. Jesus was awaiting His trial, Peter waiting to see what would happen. “You were with him,” the woman says accusing Peter. He denies Jesus. As the night lingers he is asked the same question two more times. Each time he denies being a disciple of Jesus. Meanwhile Jesus is there. When the cock crows Jesus’ and Peter’s eyes meet. Peter, overcome by remorse, breaks down in tears.
The day was bright in many ways. Jesus, risen from the dead, appears for the third time to the apostles after their night of fishing. After ordering the great catch of fish He eats with them on the seashore. As the sun continues to rise He approaches Peter.
The encounter provides healing and strength. The joy at seeing the Risen Lord, this third time since His resurrection was overwhelming. In fact before the disciples had reached the shore and once they realized it was Jesus who was calling them, Peter jumps out of the boat so he can get to Jesus.
Now, Jesus asks Peter the tri-fold question “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” In one sense the questions echo in reverse the questions asked of Peter in the courtyard some days before. In another sense they heighten the affirmation being sought.
In the courtyard Peter was asked about association and discipleship, now he is being asked about love – “Peter, do you love me?” In this encounter with Jesus, Peter professes his love three times in response to these questions: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.”
The profession of love reverses the denials. While they were distant from each other in the courtyard, they are now present to one another and the relationship is healed by the Risen Lord. As the relationship is healed Jesus renews His commission of Peter: “Feed my lambs.”
Peter’s role in the mission is that of shepherd. He will follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd and carry on His mission of love and mercy. We realize through this encounter that for Peter to carry on the mission he needs that healing that comes from the Lord. The relationship has to be strong for him to fulfill the mission and to undertake the responsibilities given him.
For Peter to “feed the lambs” and “tend the sheep” he must remain close to Jesus. He must imitate Jesus in his very life, and even in his death. Jesus predicts Peter’s death when he says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
The call to imitate Jesus is made explicit in Jesus’s final words in this encounter: “Follow me.”
We see the healing power of Jesus’ resurrection, His love and His mercy, manifest through Peter in the reading from Acts of the Apostles. Similar to that night in the courtyard, Peter is once again surrounded by adversaries. Once again he is questioned.
But this time he does not deny the Lord, he boldly professes His resurrection: “God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.” Peter has been healed through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. His personal sin has been forgiven. He is redeemed and filled with life.
His realization of God’s love and mercy propels him and the others to proclaim that love and to offer it to others. No cost is too great for them, in fact, it is quite the opposite as St. Luke tells us: “… they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”
Peter and the other apostles and disciples are keenly aware of the Lord’s love and mercy. He died in love for them and for all. The healing power of His love and mercy is available to all. The awareness of this love and mercy fills the disciples with great joy and courage.
St. Paul is another example of someone who was keenly aware of the Lord’s healing love. The awareness transformed His life; so too with many Christians throughout the past 2,000 years.
Today we continue to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, His love and His mercy. May we be ever more aware of this love and mercy in our lives so that we too may boldly proclaim His resurrection and invite others to share in the life he offers.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.