THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER (2019)
Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32
Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Scholars are in agreement that the twenty-first chapter of John’s gospel is a later addition to the original. You will recall the ending of last Sunday’s gospel which sounded very much like a conclusion to all that went before: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name (Jn 20:31).” Why did John, or his “school,” decide that it was necessary to add Chapter 21 to a gospel that was thought to be finished? Might it be the unfinished business of a charcoal fire?
There are only two places in the entire New Testament where a charcoal fire is mentioned, and both of them are in John’s gospel. The first time a “charcoal fire” appears is in the courtyard of the High Priest Annas (Jn 18:18), where “the servants and guards were standing around” warming themselves on account of the “cold” night. Having already denied Jesus to a “servant girl,” Peter, too, comes to the fire to warm himself, and in short order twice denies that he knows Jesus, just before “a cock began to crow.” When Peter next appears in the gospel he is being informed by Mary Magdalen that the tomb was opened, and Peter runs with the “other disciple (the one Jesus loved),” arriving at the tomb second, but having the privilege of first discovering the tomb to be empty. Assuming the gospel ended with the last verse of chapter 20, Peter’s final performance was anything but stellar.
The second time a “charcoal fire” appears is in chapter 21 where Jesus is cooking breakfast. After a marvelous catch of fish orchestrated by Jesus from shore, Peter and the disciples join Jesus for breakfast, and it is here that Peter’s reputation is dramatically rehabilitated. The other disciples are virtually invisible while Jesus speaks to Peter and gives him a chance to offset the three denials of chapter 18. The fear of Annas’ courtyard is replaced with a love “that casts out fear,” and with the responsibility of tending and feeding the Lord’s flock. Although the rest of the disciples are not actively involved in the conversation, it is safe to assume that Jesus’ words were addressed to them as well, and to us who likewise “follow” the Lord.
Like the apostles, we were not chosen because of our perfection. Indeed, the apostles were flawed, fully human individuals, just like us, yet Jesus can see the hearts of those he summons. Jesus really did not have to ask Peter three times about his love for Jesus, for he could see Peter’s heart which was on fire with love for the Lord, in spite of Peter’s poor performance when they were last together. Jesus did know that Peter loved Him, and to Peter, and to all those who follow in the Lord’s footsteps, He entrusts the care of His flock. The care of the flock is not solely the responsibility of the hierarchy. All men and women who choose to follow a God who shared their humanity are called to nourish, tend, shepherd, teach, and protect the flock of the Lord Jesus. May we never shrink from this responsibility of all Christians.