(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5)
“The Lord is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!” The celebration of the Lord’s resurrection continues on this Third Sunday of Easter. Once again we acclaim Jesus’ victory of life over death.
The Gospel account for Sunday’s liturgy comes from the Gospel according to John. The passage recounts another appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples. The longer form includes the well-loved dialogue between Jesus and Peter.
Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” Peter responds “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus then tells Peter: “Feed my lambs.” Two more times Jesus asks and Peter responds. Then Jesus says to Peter: “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 else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” The evangelist interjects that Jesus was telling Peter the type of death he would face. Then Jesus concludes saying: “Follow me.”
The passage echoes three themes of the Gospel that culminated in the Lord’s passion: love, mercy and service.
The first theme is love. Jesus uses the word when questioning Peter. The love Jesus is asking Peter to profess is a love of Jesus. The love of God is centered in the person of Jesus. The Son comes from the Father to lead us to the Father. He is the “sheep gate” through which the flock enters. Love of Jesus is at the center of our love for God.
In our own lives as we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord, the celebration is one of great joy for the one we love has triumphed over death. He is alive. Contemplating that mystery we become more and more aware of the depth of his love. The love fills us with joy and peace.
The second theme is mercy. The interchange between Jesus and Peter is also one of mercy. Jesus’ victory over death is a victory of mercy as well as love. Going back to Genesis we recall that death is a consequence of sin. The resurrection of Jesus breaks the stranglehold of death and mercy is poured out. It is through mercy that one is healed and strengthened.
We see this in a concrete way in Jesus’ conversation with Peter. Peter has denied the Lord at the moment where his friendship was needed most. Rather than acknowledging, supporting and standing-by the Lord in his passion, Peter three times denies that he even knows Jesus.
The Lukan account recalls a powerful moment in that scene. When the cock crows, Jesus turns and looks at Peter. Their eyes meet. Peter is face to face with Jesus but also with his own guilt. Now face to face again, Jesus offers Peter the opportunity for healing. “Do you love me more than these?” Three times Jesus affords Peter the opportunity to profess his love for the three times he denied Jesus. Peter does so. Mercy heals and Peter is strengthened for mission.
The third theme is service. Jesus commissions Peter for a life of mission through service. Each time Peter professes his love for Jesus, Jesus tells him: “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep” and “feed my sheep.” Peter’s life is now bound with Jesus’ life. Peter is called to live in the paschal mystery of passion, death and resurrection.
At the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Peter objected but then allowed the Lord to wash his feet. The washing of the feet was a symbolic representation of Jesus’ passion. He empties himself in love and service for his friends. Earlier in the Gospel he called his disciples “friends.” When he says this he also says: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” The command is to love.
In this encounter Jesus commissions Peter to live the life of love by caring for the flock. The love will be the same love that Jesus has for the flock. This love will be manifest in the tending and feeding but culminates in Peter’s giving his life in love. While before the passion Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, now he predicts his faithfulness. The conversation concludes with Jesus’ words “Follow me.”
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead manifests the victory of love and mercy. The love and mercy we have received through him who died and rose again is to be lived in the gift of self. We have been baptized into the death of the Lord and rise with him to a life of love, mercy and mission.
“The Lord is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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