Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
It is now two weeks since the Resurrection. The intensity and excitement of the glorious morning of running to the empty tomb and the incredible joy when Jesus appeared to them is beginning to wear off. The apostles are beginning to wonder, “Now what do we do?” What else but the only thing they know how to do. Simon Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” The others think this is a good idea and they go with him.
It is this fishing trip on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias that sets the stage for one of the most powerful scenes in the whole of the Gospel. The encounter of the humiliated chastened Simon Peter with his crucified and risen Lord. The scene has all the drama of the parable of the Prodigal Son. In fact, as Simon approached the Lord his thoughts must have been similar to those of the Prodigal Son as he approached his father. “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy…”
But before Simon can get a word out the Lord says, “Bring me some of the fish you have caught.” And the Lord proceeds to prepare a breakfast for them. All during the meal Simon is silent, embarrassed, waiting for the rebuke he so justly deserves, “Simon, why did you deny three times that you even knew me?” But there is no rebuke. Instead Jesus asks Simon, “Do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Then he said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” Jesus said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter distressed that he had been asked a third time said, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Such was the Coronation of Simon Peter as the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth.
This is one of two scenes in the Gospel which should be indelibly etched on the minds and hearts of every Christian. The other scene is that of Judas Iscariot hanging from a tree. Judas was probably the most gifted of all the apostles. He was trusted and chosen to keep the purse. He must have been a loyal apostle because until the very end no one ever suspected him to be a traitor. When he left abruptly at the Last Supper they thought he was going to buy what was needed for the feast or to give something to the poor. But Satan had entered his heart and for thirty pieces of silver he consented to betray his master. Perhaps he thought that Jesus would be able to elude their grasp as he had done so often in the past. When he learned that Jesus had been condemned to death the thirty pieces of silver became as hot coals in his pocket. He ran to the temple and threw the coins on the floor and went out and hanged himself on a tree. Such was the end of Judas Iscariot, a vessel of election who had eaten at the table of the Lord.
These two scenes dramatically illustrate that ultimately there is only one failure, one tragedy in life. And that is to despair of the unconditional love of God and to think that our sin is greater, more powerful than the love of God. Jesus would have forgiven Judas just as he had Simon Peter. In a way, the sin of Peter was greater than that of Judas. At least Judas received thirty pieces of silver for his betrayal. Peter gained nothing for his three fold denial of Jesus to a lowly maid servant.
The lesson for us
is crystal clear. When we meet the Risen Jesus on the shores of the Last
Judgment he will not ask us how virtuous, how successful or how productive
we have been. He will ask, “Do you love me?” And if we are
able to answer with Simon Peter, “Lord, you know all things, you
know that I love you,” blessed indeed will we be.
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