Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 1st By Fr Brian Maher OMI
After the death of Jesus, his followers were alone and afraid. A combination of grief and shock must have almost overwhelmed them, leaving them rudderless and lost. Most of them, it seems, reacted in the most natural way imaginable – they returned to the place where they were most comfortable and to the people who loved them most. In short, they returned to the place they called ‘home’ and to their families. For at least seven of the Apostles the towns and villages along the shores of the Sea of Galilee were home and all of them were, by occupation, fishermen. At home, comforted by family, they sought to pick up the threads of their lives ‘before Jesus’.
Rumours and stories of Resurrection certainly got to them, and coming from trustworthy people, they must have wondered what it might mean for them. I can imagine them at night, huddled together around a fire, grappling with their grief and loss, wondering if Jesus could possibly be alive again and even if so, was there still a mission for them or was it over?
There would also have been another emotion pulling at their hearts, namely guilt. It is not an emotion we very often share with others, finding it embarrassing. Apart from John, it seems that all the rest of Jesus’ closest followers deserted him, running in fear. Poor Peter, as we know, vocally and publicly said, on three separate occasions, that he did not even know who Jesus was. Reports of the Resurrection most have brought a sense of anxiety as well as any possible excitement or relief. If Jesus had risen and was alive again, how could they possibly face him after what they had done? What would Jesus say to them? Would he even want to know them?
It is in this context that the risen Lord comes to Galilee in today’s Gospel, and it is Peter and the others he seeks out. This last chapter of John’s Gospel is a later epilogue added to supplement what has gone before it. Peter is clearly the focus of the action, the writer going to great pains to restore Peter’s credibility and authority as Jesus’ chosen successor.
It is not accidental that Peter is three times asked to declare his love for Jesus, each declaration deleting an earlier denial. Peter is even asked does he love Jesus “more than these others”. This is exactly the question Shakespeare’s King Lear asks his daughters, leading to his downfall, madness, and tragic death. It is most definitely not the kind of question a parent would be advised to ask one of their children. Here, however, the conversation is not so much about Jesus’ questions, as about Peter’s answers.
Peter’s place within the first communities of believers was an important one. He was close to Jesus, named by him as the ‘rock’ on which his Church would be built, strong, resolute, stubborn. Peter must have suffered acutely the pangs of guilt associated with his denials.
It was hugely important, then, that all in the early Christian communities were in no doubt that the risen Lord, not only forgave Peter, but restored his authority as leader of the Apostles. The encounter follows closely the narrative of the first call of Peter: He is called to “follow me…”, he is given his mission to lead the Church, and he is sent out to proclaim the Gospel. This second call can be seen as cancelling his first call which, in his weakness, he failed to fulfil.
By talking about the kind of death Peter will suffer, Jesus is telling his followers that it’s OK., next time Peter will not deny him or run away.
The miracle of catching the huge shoal of fish also echoes an almost identical miracle at the start of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) when Peter, James and John are called. It is, of course, possible that this is a different miracle done after Jesus’ Resurrection, but I prefer to think that the writer is thinking about Jesus’ first call of Peter and wants us to do the same. This time, however, it is the risen Lord who is calling Peter and now, in the power of the Resurrection, Peter will not lose courage but will witness to Jesus right up to his own death. … And he does!
For me, however, all the theology of this chapter, important as it might be, loses significance when we are presented with the image of Jesus sharing an early morning breakfast with his friends.
Yes, Peter denied Jesus and, yes, all of them deserted him when he was most in need, but here in Galilee, where it all began, Jesus comes to forgive and restore, calling to them gently and tenderly, “Come and have breakfast.”
These are the images that truly make it impossible for me to fear God, or doubt that no matter what I have done, or will do, Jesus will be there, waiting for me to “come and have breakfast” with him.
I remember reading once that in the very early Church there were two versions of the Eucharistic meal being practised. One, in Jerusalem, used bread and wine. The other, in rural Galilee, used bread and fish. Be that as it may, it is clear that this encounter with the risen Lord is Eucharistic in nature. During the breakfast, Jesus, we are told, “stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish…” Are not these words too close to the words spoken at the Last Supper to be coincidence?
If this encounter was, as stated, the “third time he showed himself to his disciples after he rose from the dead”, then the last meal they shared with Jesus was the Last Supper, before his suffering and death, before his betrayal, Peter’s denials, and the desertion of his disciples.
How appropriate, how fitting and beautiful, that now the Risen Lord comes to them, and in a setting of friendship and peace invites them to a much more relaxed meal, around a charcoal fire, on the beach.
It is also important to note that this time we are told the disciples “did not need to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord.” It seems like at last the truth is dawning; he is Risen, and their work goes on as his witnesses in the world.
So does ours!
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection you would like to share, I would be delighted to hear from you – please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Gospel Sunday May 1st||John 20:19-31 ©|
Jesus stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish
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