Dominica III Paschae
Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn. 21:1-19
5 May 2019
Graduating seniors, and anyone older preparing for a class reunion, know that this time of year is often characterized by a good deal of self-reflection and reminiscing about the past while charting a course for the future. That reflection for graduates, finishing up one stage of life and preparing to embark on something unfamiliar with its mix of excitement and uncertainty, [that reflection] can lead to acknowledging and facing regrets, unfulfilled tasks, mistakes, and even sins, together with a renewal and a recommitment to start anew and to do things differently, to be more the person one should be. Revisiting the past, reminiscing, can help us make a course correction and can help form new dedication to not make the same mistakes again.
Why am I suggesting the image or analogy of the reflection often associated with graduation or a class reunion? Let’s look at why the Gospel scene for the disciples may well have brought to the fore much self-reflection, reminiscing, confronting past errors, and recommitting to a new course.
St. John tells us this is the third resurrection appearance of Jesus. The first two were in Jerusalem. This one is back in Galilee. So immediately we have the sense of homecoming, going back to the roots of the disciples’ life with Jesus, the roots of their call and their mission, their first conversion, zeal, love and commitment to him. They are at the Sea of Tiberias, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. We might call it the sea of miracles. So many incredible things had happened on those waters with Jesus and the disciples. So many incredible things had taken place on the shores and nearby. The setting is a place where the disciples had had such powerful encounters with Jesus. This sets the stage for another.
There is an allusion in this Gospel selection [John 21] to what St. Luke recounts in his fifth chapter. There, as in this account, a group of the disciples is out fishing all night and they catch nothing. Jesus instructs where to fish and a great haul is brought in. Obedience is a clear lesson, obedience to God even and especially when it seems counterintuitive and against one’s better judgment as a human being. Jesus then says from now on they will be catching men. So, when in today’s Gospel selection, a miraculous catch of fish is made you know Peter and the disciples can’t help but recall the prior time and how it led them to give up everything to follow Jesus.
The language here also makes an allusion to the miraculous feeding of the five thousand with bread and fish, an event that had happened in the same place and which was followed by Jesus’ walking upon the very same Sea of Galilee.
And given that Jesus invites the disciples to come eat with him, there is an allusion to eating with Jesus at the Last Supper. At the Last Supper, Peter had boldly claimed that he would remain even when all the others betrayed and fled, saying “I will lay down my life for you” (Jn. 13:37). Jesus follows up that claim by indicating that Peter would deny him three times. Here in this setting on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias/the Sea of Galilee, Peter can’t help but be taken back to all of these moments. Self-reflection. Reminiscing.
The charcoal fire gives a clear indication of what Peter must remember in order to recommit himself to Jesus and to his mission. The word in Greek used here for ‘charcoal fire’ is a unique word and it is not the common word for fire. That unique Greek word is used in another place, not long before this episode, and that gives us a sign to focus in on, and an indication of what this scene must have made Peter consider. Where else is the word for charcoal fire used? In the Passion account, after the Last Supper, after predicting the threefold denial by Peter, while Jesus is being interrogated by the high priest, Peter is sitting nearby in the high priest’s courtyard with others warming himself (Jn. 18:18). ‘Charcoal fire,’ you see, is the place where Peter was more concerned about himself, taking care of his own bodily needs, warming himself to keep his body from being uncomfortable due to cold, while his denial was aimed at keeping himself from being uncomfortable by being too associated with Jesus.
I suggest that all of this tells us that the air of today’s scene is pregnant with memory and that just as when we stand in familiar places and prepare to leave in order to embark on something new, we can reasonably assume for Peter that this place causes for him the type of self-reflection and reminiscing that we know so well. This reflection brings about for Peter an opportunity for recommitting and recommission; and the same can be true for us. Peter recommits and turns back after having denied Jesus. What might this teach us about recommitting to our first following of Jesus? What might this teach us about turning away from our sins and our failure to follow, and turning back to Jesus instead? What might this teach us about renewing again our responsibility for the mission of Jesus and his Church? As Peter had to renew and recommit to his love for Jesus, he was reminded of his call to shepherd and care for Jesus’ flock. What work, what care, what shepherding is left undone if we fail in our mission? If we don’t renew and recommit to our love for Jesus? What of Jesus’s desire for our world and for souls around us is thwarted if time and again we are more concerned for ourselves, for our reputation, for our comfort as opposed to being engaged in being living disciples and bold witnesses in this world? What work of the Lord is left undone if we are more busy warming ourselves to avoid being too closely associated with the demands of God?
We must take obedience to God seriously. Obedience is at the heart of the original call to be a disciple, to be obedient to the love of God. After all, obedience to God, rather than to men, is what the apostles offer as their defense before the Sanhedrin in the first reading.
Like Peter it is time to reflect and consider where we need to make a course correction as disciples. Like Peter it is time to recommit and to find our first love and zeal for the mission of the Lord. In a world that rejects obedience to God’s designs and chooses the self instead, where must we recommit to being bold disciples? Will we keep ourselves warm by the charcoal fire of silence in the face of offenses against human life? Are parents and friends choosing the charcoal fire when there is no pushback if children should choose to live in sin outside of marriage, so common and increasingly so these days? When the world is running wild toward active homosexuality, transgenderism, and sexual immorality of all kinds, do we simply keep ourselves warm, or will we speak the truth as the living members of the body of Christ we are all called to be? Are we disobedient to God, while staying in the light of a screen viewing pornography? Is our heart heavy with the charcoal of serious uncharity and hatred toward another, or refusal to forgive? Ought our lips be receiving Holy Communion with such burning flames? To continue the image, do we sort of stand such that the light of the fire shines on someone else, pointing out someone else’s faults and sins while refusing to acknowledge our own, keeping our own in the dark, and rarely visiting confession, so judgmental are we. When even among the leadership of the Church, among bishops and priests, there are those who are weak shepherds, and even some who are frauds, will we simply deny the truth of Christ and keep ourselves warm? You see, we cannot complain about the course correction needed in our world if as disciples we are content to stay by the charcoal fire warming ourselves.
Like St. Peter, thanks to the generous mercy and saving power of the Risen Lord, we have the opportunity to acknowledge where we keep ourselves comfortable in disobedience to God. And, like St. Peter, we have the opportunity to correct the course, to renew ourselves and to recommit as Jesus’ followers. Yes, it will require obedience. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, we will be led to give of ourselves and to stretch out our hands in sacrifice. But it is Jesus who remains with us and who gives us the strength to be his witnesses. It is Jesus who calls us today too to recommit ourselves to bold obedient discipleship. He says to us too: Follow me!