THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER (2022)
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Psalms 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
John’s gospel overflows into a chapter not included in the original gospel, which asks us to remember the appearances of the previous chapter “behind locked doors,” but the next appearance will be at the Sea of Tiberius. Now that Jesus is gone, perhaps Peter has convinced six other disciples to go back to their former way of making a living – fishing. Not unique in the gospels the disciples caught nothing, all under the watchful eyes of a ‘stranger’ who “was standing on the shore.” If there is one thing, I am told, real fishermen do not enjoy advice from others. After learning the disciples came home empty-handed, the stranger suggests they “cast their nets over the right side of the boat,” and He assures them “you will find something.”
There was nothing in His voice, and nothing in His appearance, that suggested the stranger was Jesus, but it what was in the net, an enormous number of fish, that convinced “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (remember – the one who reached the empty tomb ahead of Peter) to proclaim “It is the Lord.” That is enough to bring Peter to his senses and jump in the water and swim to shore. If Jesus’ previous appearances were not enough to convince Peter that all was well with Jesus and he has been forgiven, this appearance will result in his thorough restoration.
When the disciples arrived on shore, Jesus had one thing on His mind – breakfast! This fishy breakfast meal was the third appearance (John tells us) of the Lord, and if the disciples had any intention of returning to their former employment, Jesus will make it clear to Peter and the disciples that their job will be to feed and nourish the sheep of Jesus’ flock. John is clearly interested in restoring the reputation of Peter. The last time in the gospels that we have seen a charcoal fire was during Jesus’ Passion, in the courtyard of the high priest. Soldiers would be keeping warm around that fire, and it was there that Peter denied being a disciple of Jesus, three times, causing Peter great shame.
The charcoal fire of John’s extra chapter is used to nourish, and show the risen Lord as experiencing hunger. Like other feedings of multitudes in the gospels, the breakfast has Eucharistic overtones: “Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.” The newly resurrected Lord has almost picked up from where He left off at the Last Supper.
Much more importantly for John, however, is the rehabilitation of Peter for the readers of his gospel. The charcoal fire and the three questions of Jesus to Peter mirror the worst night of Peter’s life, and give him a chance to unquestionably profess his love for Jesus. Peter’s role now is not to return to fishing, for he will “follow” Jesus, and will even imitate Jesus in how he will die – he will “stretch out his hands (and be nailed to a cross), and someone else will dress him and lead him where he does not wish to go.” John’s extra chapter was intended for people to forget about Peter’s indiscretion, and it was meant to inspire his readers.
The first reading from Acts gives us a glimpse of the Peter that would come long after Jesus’ third appearance. In Acts it is a Peter and disciples who are emboldened to “feed Jesus’ sheep,” to preach the good news in spite of any personal cost. It is their job to be “witnesses” of what went on that Easter Day and beyond, and it is our job as well. The appearances of Jesus proclaimed to us during the Easter season are not mere historical reminiscences, they are meant to strengthen our faith in the Risen Lord so that we might truly be genuine witnesses to what God has done by sending His Son into our world. Like Peter and the disciples, the thoughts of hardship and difficulties, the thoughts of actually dying or surrendering our lives for Christ, should never impede us from proclaiming the unfathomable love and mercy of God. May we always be up to the task.