Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep”

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“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.”   John 21:17.

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If you look back to the Sunday Mass Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, dated 6th February 2022, the gospel told of the calling of St. Peter by Jesus to become “fishers of men”, and my rather, um, personal interpretation of what might have really happened there. Today’s gospel seems to be a kind of parallel or perhaps a bookend, even though this passage is from John (the other was from Luke). It is possible that Peter had returned to Galilee to take up his old trade once more as a fisherman, having betrayed Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest while Jesus was being interrogated. In other words, perhaps his action was a kind of rejection of Jesus and all he stood for. Clearly Jesus was not the messiah the people had expected, the warrior figure who would call them to arms and kick out the Roman overlords. Did Peter think it was all a huge mistake, something to be forgotten? But, on the other hand, Peter might simply be obeying the words of the angel in Jesus’ tomb, telling the women to tell the apostles to go to Galilee and await the Lord. Both theories are plausible. Then today’s gospel event happened, curiously similar to Jesus’ initial meeting with Peter. At that time Peter had labored all night and caught nothing. Today’s gospel says they again had labored all night and caught nothing. Jesus this time calls from the shore telling them what to do. They do it, and the miraculous catch this time is prodigious, all of them having to jump into the shallow sea and physically pull the net onto land. Then Jesus puts the same question three times to Peter: “Do you love me?” – a justifiable enquiry following what had happened in the high priest’s courtyard. Three times Peter says “yes” echoing the three times he had denied even knowing Jesus. Note the utter absence of any words of condemnation or rebuke from the Lord. This is a God of Forgiveness, a God of Love. But Peter must have been bitterly aware that Jesus asked him three times the same question: “Do you love me?” His remorse must have been profound, painful beyond words, and utterly crushing. But here was the risen Lord, alive – eating a fish dinner with them! This gospel scene is a mixture of the utterly ordinary and the spectacularly incredible. No wonder the gospel says “And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord”. They were probably incapable of speech… They all knew that Jesus had died a terrible death, had been buried and left for dead, and yet, there he was, sitting with them enjoying a fish dinner!esus-christ-fish-feed-shutterstock_712805536

Jesus and the Fishermen, Entrance Mosaic to the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of ta’ Pinu, Gharb, Gozo, Malta.

Isn’t it human to return to the tried and true if confronted with something way beyond one’s experience and understanding? Peter, having followed Jesus for perhaps three years, believing in everything the Lord taught, then betraying him, even in his sight and hearing, as Luke 22:61 baldly states, must have thought his, Peter’s life, had been utterly crushed with guilt. Despite seeing the Lord alive as they huddled in the Upper Room, it seems Peter and some friends returned to their fishing rather than setting off and preaching to the world. And what would that have been? Fishing, their previous life. It must have given them a foundation on which to base their lives, something they trusted and relied on. But now the Lord reappears once more, telling Peter to feed his lambs and feed his sheep. Peter, once more surely overwhelmed that the Lord greeted him as a friend – colleague even – and entrusted to him the message he had to bring to the world, even though, as Jesus says, this would mean that “someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” as today’s gospel says, an intimation of his martyrdom. And this time, Peter obeys and his life really does change.

So the message today seems to be for us to put all our challenges into a perspective that Peter would understand, as he lived through them. That we are not to be overwhelmed by events, or at least, if we are, then never to give up hope in the Lord. Jesus’ quiet approach even to someone who had betrayed him shows how we too are to behave if ever in the same position. We are never pawns to be shoved around by life’s whims and blows; we are Christians, supported by someone who understands all that because he went through it as well. Hatred and blame were never on his lips, so they should never be on ours. The overwhelmed Peter is our model, the quiet strength of the Lord is our guiding force. We have strong models to be adopted and lived. And, as ever, we have the Lord alive within us, incorporated literally through communion with him, ready to give us strength to overcome whatever challenges us in this life.

Baby holding parent pinky finger

Helping Hands Doula in Kansas City, USA.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.