Holy Spirit

 ACTA  LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

Third Sunday of EASTER Year C
Year of Luke

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READINGS

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32. 40-41

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 30:2. 4-6. 11-143.R/. v.2

A reading from the book of the Apocalypse 5:11-14

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 21:1-19


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In order to understand chapter 21 of St John’s Gospel as best we can, it is important to remind ourselves of the concluding sentence of chapter 20:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Obviously that is a magnificent ending to a glorious Gospel. As we have seen, it is a masterly conclusion, drawing together the whole of John’s story into one beautifully balanced sentence.

Yet we have another chapter, not written by the writer or writers of the twenty chapters that were concluded so perfectly. Its opening phrase (After this, or more precisely, Later on) is vague and inept. After what? Later on? When exactly? John is careful with his indication of time and sequence. Recall the Cana wedding. It begins “after three days”. The relation to what has gone before is precise. The earliest remaining copies of John’s Gospel all have chapter 21 but this does not mean that this chapter was not an addition to the completed work. Why have the disciples returned to Galilee and gone back to their old trade as fishermen? Why do they not recognise Jesus having seen him twice in Jerusalem? While this additional chapter contains themes that are touched on elsewhere in the Gospel, and is written in the style of the Gospel, it seems to be an extended footnote, added to by someone in or close to the community for whom the Gospel was written. Perhaps the person who wrote the footnote wanted to clear up what had happened to Peter and to the Beloved Disciple. After they discovered that the tomb was empty, we are told that they “went back to their homes” (20:10). Is that the end of them? Chapter 21 brings their stories to what would appear to be a more appropriate ending and provide solutions to matters that had been left up in the air.

While this matter may seem to be rather academic and of little interest to 21st century readers and hearers of John’s Gospel, it is a reminder that the Gospels were not written for us. They were written to meet the concerns of our earliest fathers and mothers in faith. Within what we regard as “the first Christians” there was an essential unity and considerable differences. Paul’s foundations had their own stamp, that of the apostle himself. It may be a surprise to learn that Paul’s brand of Christianity was not at all popular in the first centuries of the Christian story and has proved to be contentious throughout Christian history. In Catholic circles one does not hear many homilies expounding the teaching of the greatest pastor and theologian in the history of the Church. Much later than Paul, Matthew wrote for a community made up of Jews and ex-pagan Gentiles and his Gospel was clearly an attempt to overcome the tensions between two very different backgrounds. Luke, himself a former pagan who made his way through Judaism to become a follower of Jesus, wrote for a community that was, for the most part, Gentile and probably pretty wealthy. Why do you think Luke keeps on and on about caring for the poor? Mark wrote for communities in Rome who had fallen victim to the cruelty of Nero. If you find John’s Gospel very different from the others, that is because the brand of Christianity it reflects is different. There are no parables in John’s Gospel. There are no accounts of casting out demons. There is little talk of the kingdom of God. There is no baptism of Jesus. Jesus does not die a horrible death. The cross is his throne and his death is a coronation. Jesus, (and the God of Jesus), determine his destiny, not Pilate and the Jewish Temple authorities. He dies announcing that his mission is complete. And John’s Gospel was written for a community that was breaking up. Otherwise why is he always going on about unity? The kind of Christianity that gave birth to John’s Gospel died out, and we are left to understand as best we can the writings left behind. So, you may well ask, what kept these diverse Christian communities together? How did diverse Christian communities provide understandings of Christ Jesus that have endured and continue to give life to Christians throughout the world?

The answer is that all Christian communities had two practices in common: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of course, they shared in a broad understanding of who Jesus was and his message concerning the kingdom of God. All were aware that in Christ they experienced the Saviour of the world and the hope that the human destiny was to be with God. The writings in the New Testament give clear evidence of considerable diversity. But they witness to an even more impressive unity of faith. They all shared a common boundary marker and a common identity marker

Baptism was a boundary marker. The process of preparation for baptism emphasised that those who sought to join in this new movement were being called to a different and more profound allegiance than any other in their lives. Baptism in the name of Jesus, or in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was a divine encounter that turned a citizen of the world into a citizen of the kingdom of God. The water washed away previous loyalties and the white garment signalled that one had entered the court of heaven. Each diverse Christian group, each house-church, or collection of house-churches were initiated by a common practice of baptism and it was this that marked them off from the general population. If you bore the name of Jesus, you did not bear the name of Caesar.

The identity marker was the Lord’s Supper, to use Paul’s name for the celebration of the Eucharist. Eating the Bread and drinking the Blood was the Christian sacred meal, to which only Christians were admitted. The tiny house-churches, wherever they were, broke the same Bread and drank of the same Cup. There may be differences concerning what Jesus said, concerning what Jesus meant, concerning the demands Jesus made. But the celebration of the Eucharist was not a matter of debate. Paul came down very quickly and forcefully on the deviations that had crept into some house-churches in Corinth. This is strong stuff:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
1 Corinthians 11:127-29

What this has to do with St John’s Gospel is that we must try to understand it on its own terms before we interpret it to serve our faith and be a source of strength to our faith. Sensitivity to the unity and diversity of those who first were baptised and celebrated the Lord’s Supper will make us aware that unity and diversity can and must characterise the churches in our time and place. An enforced unity is a bogus unity, for it destroys the creativity of the saints and the imagination of the poets. John of the Cross is not Francis of Assisi. Joan of Arc is not Teresa of Lisieux. The Spirit speaks to the churches, but the Spirit does not always say the same thing to everybody. We can see that clearly in today’s readings. What kind of Christian community is anxious to hear the animal choirs so loudly singing in our reading today from the Apocalypse? What does our Church do when some of our Doubting Thomases raise voices of concern?

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32. 40-41

And when they had brought them [apostles], they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in his name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honour by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. The word of the Lord.


Just as Jesus was hauled before the Jerusalem authorities, so too are those who proclaim his gospel in the same city. As the High Priest interrogated Jesus, so the High Priest arrested the apostles:

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
Acts 5:17-18

When they were miraculously delivered from prison they were hauled once more before the assembled authorities and wise counsels prevailed. There is, however, a very enlightening sentence that comes after today’s reading but throws much light on the missionary activities that bought the apostles into conflict with authorities in the first place. It is this:

And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:42

To be sure, the apostles and all those involved in teaching and preaching did not give up their work in spreading the good news of Jesus even in the face of opposition from authorities. What Jesus predicted in Luke’s Gospel comes to pass in Luke’s Acts:

… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.
Luke 21:12

Notice especially their strategy. There was preaching in the Temple area and in the homes of people who invited those who were engaged in spreading the word into their homes. This is really important. Given the strict conventions of society at the time, among both Jews and Gentiles alike, men would not have access to women of the household. So it would have been women who preached to women, women who taught women, and, of course, women who assisted at the baptism of converts that they had made. There is plenty of evidence that such women apostles were called deacons. Certainly, their ministry is gratefully acknowledged by St Paul in Romans 16:1-16 where the great apostle greets Phoebe as “a deacon of the church in Cenchreae”. In calling her “our sister” Paul recognises that communities gathered around Jesus are everywhere communities of sisters and brothers, locally and throughout the universal Church. In the list of names commended by Paul in the greetings to sisters and brothers in his Roman letter there are more women than men greeted by Paul. This unity of purpose shared by men and women did not last long.


Responsorial Psalm Psalm (29) 30:2. 4-6. 11-143.R/. v.2

R/. I will extol you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up!
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have raised me up,
And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life
from among those who go down to the pit. R/.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. R/.

Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

R/. I will extol you, O Lord, for you have lifted me up!
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

Some psalms have an introductory note indicating an original author or a tune to which the psalm was sung, or, as with Psalm 30, the occasion on which a psalm was used in the Temple liturgy. Here we have,

A Psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the Temple.

Whether this is an authentic note it is impossible to say. It may be that David wrote the psalm and centuries later it became part of the dedication prayer of the rebuilt Temple (515 B.C.) as reported in the Book of Ezra. Be that as it may, it is obvious that the psalm was originally a thanksgiving prayer to the God who has come to the aid of someone who had endured serious misfortune.

It is enriching to note that Thanksgiving Psalms are not simply a matter of saying “thank you” to God for help received. They are demonstrations of faith and provide portraits of the God who saves. In this sense they are creeds; they identify who God is. Notice how the nature of God is filtered through the words of thanks:

You have lifted me up
You have healed me
You have brought me up from Sheol (i.e., from death)
You have restored my life
You have turned my weeping into dancing
You have loosed my sackcloth
You have clothed me with gladness.

When things were going well, even then, the eye of the Lord was upon him, though it took illness to make him mindful of God. But the troubled soul turns to God to discover a God who listens to the cries of the distressed and pours out mercy. It is, then, fitting to praise this God forever, endlessly to sing songs of thanks forever.

Today the psalm is applied to Jesus whose sufferings did not end his story, but they were turned into glory as the cross became his throne. The Father raised him from among the dead and left his enemies an empty tomb.

A reading from the book of the Apocalypse 5:11-14

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

To him who sits on the throne
and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped. The Word of the Lord.

We will have to surrender to the surreal world of the writer of this revelation from on high in order to attempt to decode it. First we have to accept his picture of heaven. God sits of a throne, surrounded by myriads of “living creatures” and “elders” and a choir of angels, the whole lot “numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. All of them are shouting at once:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
to receive power and wealth,
and wisdom and might,
and honour and glory and blessing!

Imagine all of that had been applied to the Emperor by the imperial court. Just what Nero and every other tyrant believes: I have the power, the wealth, and the wisdom to rule the earth. Let everybody bow down before me!

But in the imagination of our poet, it is God who is wisdom, who has power beyond measure, and who alone is worthy of the praise of every living creature, in heaven and on earth. It is God and the Lamb slain by humanity’s evil, who alone are worthy of praise. That is as it should be and when the story of humanity reaches its end, that is the way it will be and there will be but one voice and one song:

To him who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb,
be blessing, and honour,
and glory and might
forever and ever!

In other words, the future belongs to God. The suffering God’s people were enduring from earth’s evil powers will be turned into joy, and victory will belong to the Lamb, the Saviour of world.

The four living creatures sing the great Amen: So be it! So be it! Readers of the Apocalypse have seen “the heavenly throne” and met the four living creatures before today’s reading. Chapters 2 and 3 presented the Christian communities and their troubles at the hands of evil imperial powers. Chapter 4 moves to the heavenly scene, so that the persecuted churches in the province of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) will be comforted by the victory of God soon to be won. All powers will be subjected to the One who sits on the heavenly throne with the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Satan’s throne (see Apocalypse 2:13) will be cast down. The imagery of thrones, white garments, and crowns are metaphors indicating that the new life of victory over evil has come, and the delights of permanent peace have been established. Tears will be wiped away from every eye and there will be singing without end:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.

The language of the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse is bizarre. But the story is the same:

God reigns!
O.K.?

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 21:1-9

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the 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. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
The Gospel of the Lord.

 

Chapter 21 is, as we have seen, a very early addition to John’s Gospel, added for reasons we can only guess at. Probably the author(s) of this addition wanted to explain what happened to two men who figured prominently in the pages of the Gospel. In the last days of the life of Jesus and in the discovery of the empty tomb, Peter and “the disciples whom Jesus loved” played significant parts. Chapter 21 may very well have been added to satisfy those who wished to know what happened to both of them after they “went back to their homes” (John 20:10).

The chapter may be divided into four sections:

The Meeting with Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias
The destiny of Peter
The destiny of the Beloved Disciple
Another concluding sentence to the Gospel.

Today’s Gospel presents the first two incidents in this chapter. The questions posed in our examination of the incidents in chapter 20 will serve our purposes in unravelling what chapter 21 is about:
What did Jesus bring?
What did Jesus take away?
What sign points to the meaning?


What did Jesus bring?

There is no explanation as to why the scene has shifted from the locked room in Jerusalem to the broad expanse of Lake Kinnereth, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee, or the Sea Tiberias. There is no explanation as to why seven disciples left the community to whom Jesus appeared in Jerusalem and made their way north to their home province of Galilee. Nor have we been informed as to why these former followers of Jesus have abandoned their discipleship and returned to the business of fishing. Nor does this Gospel or the other three Gospels ever explain why they seem totally unable to catch any fish on the lake they were brought up on. Once they decided to follow Jesus they lose their ability successfully to fish the waters of Kinnereth or to ride out its storms (check out Matthew 4:18-22; 8:23-27; Mark 1:16-20; 4:35-41; Luke 5:1-11). It is Jesus the carpenter who points to where the fish are and Jesus who calms the storms.

Notice, too, how odd the introductory sentence is:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. John 21:1

Does this mean there were other apparitions in Galilee? Or that after what we learned in chapter 20 these disciples removed themselves to Galilee? But why would they have done this if they had been present in that locked room? And why, if they were present at the appearances in Jerusalem, we are told that “the disciples did not know that it was Jesus” who stood on the shore? Again why does Jesus ask the men who had, as Jesus well knows, toiled all night and had caught nothing,

Children, do you have any fish?

The familiar “Children” is another oddity, even if it can be translated as “Lads”. Why do experienced and disappointed fishermen instantly take the advice of a stranger on the shore and cast their nets exactly to where he points? All of these details indicate naïve simplicity in the story that is at odds with the style of the previous twenty chapters.

It is no surprise that they net a miraculous haul of fish. While it is odd to find the beloved disciple in the boat (there is no mention in the Gospel that he was a fisherman or a Galilean), it is not surprising that he is the one to recognise Jesus and who says to Peter “It is the Lord”. He outruns Peter no matter what issue is at stake. See 13:23-26; 20:1-10.
So the first thing that Jesus brings to the situation is a huge haul of fish. There is a great deal of emphasis on these fish. From the initial statement of Peter in verse 3 down to verse 14, fish are mentioned seven times and we are informed that their net hauled in 153 large fish. Strange, too, is the fact that the word used for fish (opsarion) in the phrase “fish and bread” in verse 9 is the same word used in 6:9 in the Feeding of the Five Thousand story - the only two places in the whole of the New testament where that word is used.

All of these tiny details would indicate that the disciples would become “fishers of people”, as we know from the other Gospels. The fact that the Risen Lord eats with these fishermen may have reminded readers and hearers of John’s Gospel of the story of the disciples who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus in St Luke’s Gospel. There may be the slightest hint of a Eucharist story in the breakfast meal prepared by Jesus for his disciples.

There is an unpleasant difficulty lurking in this story of the fishermen sitting down to breakfast with Jesus. It is the comment at the end of the first part of the story that raises concerns:

This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:14

Of course, it was not the third time. It was the fourth time. If we count the two appearances to those gathered in the locked room, then this appearance to disciples on the shores of Lake Tiberias would be the third. But this would be to leave out the very first appearance and in many ways the most theologically informed appearance, the appearance to the woman, Mary Magdalene. The writer(s) of this additional chapter may have wished to ignore the appearance to Magdalene. It may be a reflection of what became commonplace in most of the later books of the New Testament, that is, the exclusion of women as active, determined, and essential disciples in establishing Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean world.

To recall: the first thing that Jesus brought to the seven disciples was recognition. It is the Beloved Disciple who tells Peter. “It is the Lord”. It is the Lord who looks to the needs of these fishermen, thus preparing them for a life of mission, a life of leaving behind their boat and becoming fishers of people.

What did Jesus take away?

What Jesus took away from the not very magnificent seven is the loss of faith and the desertion of their calling. Simon Peter’s determined “I am going fishing” is in stark contrast to his earlier understanding of and dedication to Jesus:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:66-69

The others join Simon Peter in their disillusionment: “We will go with you”. But “when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he threw off his clothes”, dived into the water, and when asked for some fish, it is Simon Peter who fetched them. For all of them, sitting at breakfast with Jesus, there is a return of faith: “They knew it was the Lord”.

What sign points to the meaning?

It is, of course, the charcoal fire. I wonder what went through the mind of Simon Peter (and that of the Beloved Disciple) as he ran to the Lord and saw him standing beside a charcoal fire:

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. John 21:9

Recall the scene as a slip of a girl questioned Peter:

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. John 18:15-18

 

What did Jesus bring?

The second scene by the lakeside concerns the destiny of Simon Peter. The section is an examination of Simon Peter’s love; the same Simon Peter who three times denied that he was “one of this disciples” (John 18:17, 26, and 27). Recall the first meeting of these two when Andrew introduced his brother to Jesus:

He [Andrew] brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). John 1:42

Throughout this excruciating interrogation Jesus never calls him Peter. Standing beside that charcoal fire, he is emphatically just Simon. This painful questioning of his love mirrors his threefold denial. Notice that it begins with “Simon, son of John”, just as Jesus identified him when Andrew introduced them to each other. We are back at the beginning. For Simon this is a new beginning, a new opportunity to declare his love and to accept the vocation that is offered him. It is a painful rehabilitation.
Peter is given care of the sheep, a care that must be strictly patterned on that of the Good Shepherd:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14

The test of shepherding in the community of Christians is always that of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. A key word in Simon’s examination is “my”. It is “my lambs”, “my sheep”. Whoever is called to be Peter is called to care as Jesus cares. The image of the caring shepherd is laid down in the Book of Ezekiel where God takes back responsibility for “his sheep” from the kings of Israel who battened on the sheep and reinstalls his shepherding as the true care that must be given:

 

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered … There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make own, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak … Ezekiel 34:11ff

That is the shepherding according to God. That is shepherding as Jesus shepherds his sheep, laying down his life for the whole of humanity entrusted to him. To be a shepherd of God’s people is simply to “feed them in justice”, the justice that is God’s, not the human kind. For divine justice is always steadfast love in action. If Simon is to become Peter then that is the standard by which he will be judged on earth as in heaven. It is to this responsibility that Simon is called: Follow me!

As Jesus predicted, Simon did become Peter, and though he stumbled, in the end, as tradition witnesses, he did glorify God and lay down his life for the sheep.

Joseph O’Hanlon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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