3rd Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalms 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
If you’re like me, then at some point you have thought that our faith is a bunch of stuff we have to say we believe even if it doesn’t make sense, even if we don’t actually believe, even if it doesn’t affect the way we live our life at all. And that’s not always our fault! I mean, we come here every Sunday, and we stand up and say: “I believe in one God…and in Jesus Christ.” And each and every time we say those words, the cynical side of me says, “Do I now?” Because we all say those words, but do we realize that what we mean is that we are committing to living a certain way, a life that (by definition) is all-consuming, a life that we are so unlikely to live-up to—and yet each Sunday we continue to make this claim that we “believe in one God…and in Jesus Christ.”
Because when it comes down to it, usually what we mean is, “I think that a God exists, and that this Jesus guy is important.” But belief in one God and in Jesus Christ is so much more than just believing something in your mind: it is a statement that your entire life, your entire existence is consumed by this. It means that nothing else in your life is more important than this one God. That’s why in the Old Testament, sin is nothing more than “idolatry, worshiping and serving anything in place of the one true God” (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, 102).
In our lives, it is usually us falling into “Christianness,” (Cristiandad) and not really living “Christianity” (Cristianismo). We live a certain “Christianness” of life, following certain rules, certain customs. We just do it because we’ve always done it, we feel guilty if we don’t, or our parents scold us if we don’t. This is exactly what Peter and the other apostles are doing in our Gospel today: they simply go back to what they have always done. They go fishing. At a certain point in their life, they had risked everything to follow this man, this Jesus of Nazareth. But now, everything has been thrown into chaos, and they sink back, they go back to what they’ve always done.
All of us do this! We’re going through life, but then something unexpected and unplanned happens and we shrink back. Whatever it was that we were following, whatever was prompting us forward is gone, and life becomes chaotic. In our faith, we show up to mass, we pray, we help at the parish…but our faith doesn’t really shape our life. It’s just certain rules and customs we follows, because we’ve always done that.
But we need something more! We need a personal faith that we can look at and say, “What I believe changes my entire life, it gives light and fullness to my life, in every part of my life!” And sometimes we think that we have to go read a book, or take a class, or put our kids in Catechism—we think we need to do one of these things and then finally we will have this kind of faith. And this can be helpful, but it won’t be enough. We need an experience, we need something that happens in our real life! We need to examine our experience and ask ourselves, “Who have I met of whom I can say, ‘They are an exceptional presence. When I am with them, I am less afraid, life is more joyful. Their presence helps me to feel more alive. They are someone who has truly met Christ! They are someone in whom I have met Christ!’”
Because this is precisely what happens on the shore of the Sea of Galilee! The disciples went back to what they had always done. In the chaos and uncertainty which followed Jesus’ death, the death of the man on whom they had staked everything—in this time, they went back to what they had always done because what was prompting them forward was gone, Jesus was gone.
But then John makes that simple claim about the man on the shore: “It is the Lord.” It is as if he said, “Look, the one who changed everything for us. He is here.” And at once—at once—Peter jumped into the water and swam to the shore. Peter abandoned the comfort and familiarity of the boat and went to the Lord. Peter, the one who not only abandoned the Lord, but denied him.
How tense Peter must have been at that breakfast! Probably taking several quick glances at Jesus, hoping Jesus wouldn’t notice him. But then he looks over and Jesus is looking right at him. How uncomfortable he must have felt! We have felt this too. We have all been in situations where the one we have given our life to, the one who holds our heart, the person we love the most—we fail them, we hurt them, we deny them. And the most horrible feeling in the world is their look in your eyes after that. Because usually that is when they get to accuse us of all of the wrong we have done, that is when they get to be angry about what they did—and we have no defense. We can all think of examples, we all have a time when we could not even look the person in the eyes.
But here? Here Jesus looks at Peter, and three times asks a simple question: “Peter, do you love me?” And finally Peter gets it. Jesus, with that exceptional presence that Peter had always followed—Jesus asks Peter to profess his belief in him. And Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, You know I love You. All my preference is for You, all the preference of my mind, all the preference of my heart; You are the extreme preference of my life, the supreme excellence of things. I don’t know, I don’t know how, I don’t know how to say it and I don’t know how it can be but, despite all I have done, despite all I can still do, I love You” (C.f., Giussani, “Peter, do you love me?”).
And to this real, all-consuming profession of faith, Jesus simply responds: “Follow me.” Just like before, Jesus invites Peter to follow him, to stop doing what he has always done, and to follow him, to follow him down the unfamiliar and unknown road of being his disciple.
In Peter’s three-fold profession of love, he again is committing to living a certain way, a life that (by definition) is all-consuming, a life that he is unlikely to live-up to. But when he experienced that look of Christ, when we experience that gaze, we experience not accusations and guilt, but a simple question: “Do you love me?” And in spite of our weakness and faults and sins and infidelity, we simply reply: “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”