John 21:1-19
Do You Love Me
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  He revealed himself in this way.  Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."  they said to him, "We also will come with you."  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?"  They answered him, "No."  So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something."  So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.  So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.  The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. 

When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.  Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught,"  So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.  Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast."  And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord.  Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

When the had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."  He then said to Simon Peter a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."  Jesus said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?"  and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."  Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.  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 our your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."  He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.  And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

There is an enormous amount of brokenness and sin in our world today.  We see it in societies where poverty, hatred, war and genocide still abound.  It is evident in homes where genuine care, loving sacrifice, and dedicated family time often are absent.  We also see it in individual lives where selfishness, despair, resentment and anger reign.

Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday to destroy these evils that prevail in much of our world.  He is the Divine Physician who wants to heal our wounds, forgive our sins and renew our hearts.  Jesus has a mission to repair our broken world, one heart at a time.

This week’s Gospel lays out for us Jesus’ effort to heal the heart of Peter, the rock upon whom He intended to build His church.  Peter’s own weakness and brokenness led him to deny that he knew Our Lord three times during Jesus’ darkest hour.  The one who, hours before, had boldly promised that he would die for Jesus, has a meltdown before the ones who question him, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?”

Peter’s three-fold denial of Our Lord seriously damaged his faith, confidence and sense of self.  Jesus, keenly aware of this reality, approaches Peter to heal him and renew him.  “Simon, Son of Jon, do you love me?”  The risen Jesus begins the healing by simply approaching Peter and initiating an encounter.  Then, Our Lord intentionally questions Peter three times concerning his love for the divine Savior.  Our Lord gave Peter the chance to repair the breach and to pledge his heart anew with a three-fold public confirmation.  What a skilled Physician.

In addition to healing Peter’s heart, Our Lord again commissions him as head of the apostles and visible leader of His church.  As the father in the parable of the prodigal son restores his son’s dignity as a member of the family by the gift of the sandals, ring and fine robe, Jesus restores Peter as chief shepherd of the flock by commanding him to feed and tend His sheep.  Peter desperately needed this moment in order to have full confidence in the role that Jesus had given him after the first miraculous catch of fish.  This encounter fashioned by our risen Lord was an incredible gift to Peter and the church.

The Divine Physician also exercises His role as the Divine Teacher by highlighting that leadership in the kingdom must flow first from love for Christ.  St. Paul will emphasize this reality in his famous passage from First Corinthians where he states that if I have the gift of prophecy, the faith to move mountains, and the generosity to give everything I have away but have not love, then I am nothing at all.  All leadership among Christians must begin with a profound love for the person of Jesus Christ.  Otherwise the leadership will be corrupted and go astray.

Jesus knew well Peter’s heart.  His love for Peter, His gift of healing and His extraordinary trust in him proved true.  Peter became a generous, wise and courageous shepherd of the flock.  By God’s grace, Peter served Our Lord faithfully and remained close to the one he loved until the very end.  Simon Peter gave his life in the end in Rome as a witness to the risen Lord and as leader of the church commissioned to make disciples of all nations and to teach them all that the Lord had commanded.

All of us have had our meltdowns and denied Jesus with our words and actions.  We have damaged our faith and lost confidence.  The Divine Physician knows our hearts as well.  He wants to extend His mercy, bring us healing and send us out to be His witnesses in the world.  Let’s commit to being like Peter this Easter season and accept the new life of Christ.

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