5 May 2019
Acts 5:27- 32, 40- 41
Two men who were very good friends for a long time had a serious disagreement and stopped talking to each other. Three months later one of them phoned the other and admitted the major fault had been his and invited the other to a meal which was accepted. His friend forgave him totally and they had a great reunion.
Today we hear about the forgiveness of Jesus in relation to Peter and the other disciples despite their betrayal of him and their infidelity. In fact, he calls them ‘friends’.
The disciples had been out fishing all night and caught nothing. It was obviously dark. Now Jesus the Light of the world appears on the shore and having been told they had caught nothing suggested they cast their nets again and they catch a huge number of fish. Obviously he did not withhold his forgiveness and compassion from them despite their infidelity and betrayal of him. We see that Jesus was concerned to save them from the embarrassment of returning home to tell their families they had failed to catch anything. Also it was during their normal work that he appeared to them. This is important for us to know. Jesus does not try to embarrass us when we betray him by our sins and he is concerned and cares for us that our daily tasks would go well. He is with us if only we are aware of this. We also see the concern of Jesus in providing a meal for them. They had worked hard all night without success and were probably cold and tired so he calls to them and says ‘Come and have breakfast’. He invites us to the Eucharistic meal always too.
When the disciples came ashore after the miraculous catch of fish they found a charcoal fire ready with fish cooking on it. You may remember that it was around a charcoal fire when Peter was warming himself that he betrayed Jesus 3 times. Now Jesus is telling Peter that he is fully forgiven for his betrayals but before Jesus can allow him to shepherd the flock he wants to hear directly from Peter if he loves him.
Jesus asks Peter 3 times ‘Do you love me?’ This threefold question and answer do not imply that Jesus has doubts about Peter but that Peter’s love for Jesus is sincere and that he has the devoted love for Jesus, which is at the heart of all true discipleship. Jesus wants to hear the reply from Peter himself. Jesus then tells Peter to feed his lambs (the weaker members of the community), to feed his sheep (the stronger ones) and to care for all of them. This is the role of the shepherd.
This is a very important exchange because it reveals to us what the essence of Christianity is. Is it not true to say that Christianity is a person, Jesus Christ and so it is about our relationship with him and all that involves? So why do I go to Mass on Sunday or why do I try and keep the commandments? Is it because I think I may go hell or that God will punish me, which is untrue? Or is it because of my relationship with Jesus? If so who is the Jesus I relate to? Who really is Jesus for me? How well do I know him? Can I have a deep relationship with someone if I do not know him/her very well? How do I deepen any relationship? Is it not by spending time with the person and getting to know him/her?
That is why Jesus came – to offer us a deep personal relationship with him. He wants us to be his friends as he says in John’s gospel. Firstly he reveals himself to the 7 disciples. He is constantly trying to reveal himself to us in the ordinary events of each day, through our friends, in prayer etc.
If we can see Jesus in this light as someone doing all he can to invite us into his friendship then we might want to be his disciples not because of any law but simply because we would like to. Christianity was never meant to be a religion of fear and threats of punishment if we didn’t measure up. It was meant to be a relationship between Jesus and us and, between God whom Jesus revealed and us. The Laws and Commandments were given to help us avoid trouble. So if I kill and get caught I may be hanged or electrocuted so God says – Don’t kill. If I steal and am caught I may end up in prison, etc.
It is by living according to the value system of Jesus, attending Mass, by personal prayer, celebrating the sacraments and reading scripture that we deepen our relationship with Jesus. Jesus invited the disciples to a meal after the catch of fish. If we could only understand and accept how passionately and unconditionally Jesus loves us then the more we would respond out of love and not fear. His death on the cross sums up this love. But it isn’t easy. Peter was told by Jesus at the end of today’s gospel that he would suffer if he tried to be faithful to him.
‘Lord Jesus, thank you for your invitation to us to a deep, personal friendship with you. With the help of your Holy Spirit, help us to be more aware of this and to respond generously. Help us to forgive others as you forgive us always if we ask you. Amen’.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA