May 5, 2019
(3rd Sunday Easter, C)
The high priest questioned them (Peter and the other Apostles), “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men. Acts_5:27-32,40b-41
John reported: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” Rev_5:11-14
Jesus said to Peter the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Jn_21:1-19
You’re on the top of your class of twelve, though the others may have wished, or thought, that THEY were “the greatest.” You’re a little impetuous, but you always felt, THAT was better than being shy and ignored or secretly rebellious. And your lack of inhibition, in both words and actions, has gotten you: not only Satanic exorcisms, with words like: “Get behind me Satan,” but even the amazing ability to walk on water.
And yet, what do you do when your shield, your shepherd, your shelter, your security blanket is taken away? What do you do when all that’s left, in the cold, dark night, is a charcoal fire and a thousand mosquitoes buzzing in your ears? . . .
Do you love me, Peter?
Buzz, buzz, sting, sting.
Do you really love me?
Buzz, Sting, Bite!
Do you truly love me, brothers and sisters, even when the world around you seems to be crashing down upon your heads, or when you’re totally secure in your own little comfort zone?
Do you really love me???
Today’s Scriptures are rich in theological and ecclesiastical symbolism that forms the very foundation of our Church. From the boat, the untorn net and the 153-fish, we see our Church as a place of unity, and permanency, and universality.
In Peter’s 3-fold confession of love we see his restitution from a 3-fold denial of Jesus at another charcoal fire. And in his bold proclamation of faith to the Sanhedrin, we see Peter’s vindication.
In Jesus’ call of Peter to feed and to tend His sheep, the Church sees Peter as its supreme shepherd, our first Pope, following in the footsteps of Jesus.
In the charcoal meal of fish and bread we’re reminded of the ‘Multiplication of Loaves,’ the Passover Supper, and our own Eucharistic celebrations of thanksgiving and praise and glory to God.
And, beyond these few examples, volumes more have been written on the symbolism of these particular Scriptures.
But today, I’d like to share with you a personal story of reflection on this Love, that Peter and we have been so deeply interrogated about.
It all began a little over a month ago when I decided to cut down a huge thorn-locust tree in my back yard. It was one of those trees with the finger-long thorns that painfully pierce and scratch your arms and your head whenever you try to mow the lawn anywhere near it.
It reminded me of Jesus’ parable about the fruitless fig tree that the gardener pleaded to save for just one more year. Except this tree was much, much worse. And its time was long overdue.
So revving up my 18″ chainsaw, I proceeded to cut a “notch” in its trunk, giving that tree a precise direction for its eventual fall. Next, I made my “felling cut” from the opposite side, carefully anticipating the familiar, “Crack” and “Crash” of accomplishment. Any of you, who have ever ‘felled a tree,’ know the exhilaration of those mighty sounds. Remember when we were kids, and we used to yell, “Timmm – Burrrrrr”
Unfortunately, in the case of my nasty thorn tree, it was just NOT to be. So I cut and I cut, until it was severed all the way through to the notch on the other side. And STILL, that tree would not fall!
Next, I tied a rope around its thorny trunk, and attempted to yank it down with my tractor. (I’ve been told that unless you’re an expert at this stuff, Don’t try this at home!) In the process, all I managed to accomplish was to drag that 30-foot tree off its 20-inch stump, to be firmly planted – UPRIGHT in the dirt.
I was beginning to wonder if, just maybe, the Lord didn’t want that tree down, quite as much as I did.
Well, to make a long story short, after more cuts and more tractor pulls, I finally got it down, a half a day later.
It was all – pretty exhausting.
But before I quit for the day, I insisted on chopping up all the branches and the logs into manageable pieces. Which itself, took another few hours.
Well, it wasn’t until two-days later that I felt like one of those thorns had grown by 3-feet, and was stabbing itself through my back and deep into my abdomen. With pain so bad that I couldn’t even put my own socks on, I wondered how I was ever going to carry that 4-foot candle in procession, all around the Church at the Easter Vigil.
And it was in that moment, that the voice of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Joseph, do you Love me?”
By the time Sunday rolled around, the pain was so excruciating, that I couldn’t even get my legs out of bed, let alone make it to Mass.
And again He cried out,
“Joseph, do you Love me?”
You see, brothers and sisters, what we learn, is that life goes on, despite the pain.
Jesus forgives us, despite our failures, despite our weaknesses, despite our ignorance. Despite it all, Jesus STILL loves us! But, Do WE Love Him, even in the pain, even in the false security of our wonderful independence?
“Feed my sheep,”
Stand up for what you believe, just like St. Paul did, even in the face of death. And tell the world that there IS Hope, despite the pain, despite the thorns, and even despite Satan’s stubborn opposition to God’s plan for us . . .
We ARE God’s people of Hope.
So here we sit, before the charcoal fire of God’s unfathomable LOVE for us, confessing our (meager) love for Jesus.
And yet, TOGETHER, united in Eucharistic thanksgiving, along with every living creature in the universe (as revealed to us by God through St. John),
together, with a Love that burns Eternal in our hearts, we too cry out: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb,” while Jesus invites us, as well, to:
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