By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Third Sunday of Easter, Year C
First Reading: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Response: Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14; Gospel: John 21:1-19
The context of the first reading is the second arrest of the apostles, instigated by the high-priestly families, who had them jailed. An angel came at night, opened the gates and let them out. The angel’s message: “Go to the temple and tell the people about this new Life.” At daybreak, they began proclaiming again the resurrection of Jesus. Asserting that Jesus rose from the dead was the sore point for the high-priestly families. They were of the party of the Sadducees; and as such, they denied any resurrection of the dead. They were also afraid that the crowds who loved and admired Jesus would blame them (correctly) for his death and take violent revenge. So the officials came to the jail – but no apostles. Someone reported they were preaching in the temple. The police brought them quietly to the High Council, which demanded an explanation for disobeying their previous injunction against preaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and his colleagues summarized their civic disobedience, “We must obey God rather than men, etc.,” infuriating their enemies.
Unfortunately, our reading not only omitted most of the above story, but also the important intervention on behalf of the apostles by the great Pharisee scribe Gamaliel, a member of the High Council. It is important to point this out so that we become aware that not only Jesus, but also the Christian movement, had friends in high places – especially among the Pharisees. (See also Luke 13:31; John 3:1; 7:50-51; 19:38-41; Acts 6:7.) Gamaliel’s intervention can be summed up like this: “Leave these men alone. Let them go because if this movement is only of human origin, it will fail. But if it comes from God, you cannot destroy it and might find yourselves fighting against God.” His advice carried the day. The high-priestly families, however, had to get their revenge. They had the apostles scourged, warned them again not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. The apostles returned to the temple every day, proclaiming “the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Psalm 32, a song of gratitude after mortal danger, is an appropriate response to the danger from which the apostles escaped. Note the people’s response: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” The same theme is seen in the verses: “You did not let my enemies rejoice over me. You changed my mourning into dancing.” We can, with some humor, apply one verse of the psalm to the enemies of the apostles: “You preserved me from those going down into the pit.”
The elder John, whom we met in his first vision in last Sunday’s second reading, continues his visionary experience. He hears the Hymn of the Universe sung in praise of the Lamb of God. The hymn ends with divine revelation proclaiming equality between God and the Lamb. “To the one who is sitting on the throne (God) and to the Lamb (Jesus) be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The hymn closes with a grand “Amen,” reminding us of the grandeur of the “Great Amen” at the end of our Eucharistic Prayer.
Last Sunday’s gospel included two post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples in a group. Today’s gospel is the third appearance. The disciples are no longer in Jerusalem. They have returned to Galilee. Very likely, they gathered at the home of Simon Peter and Andrew in the city of Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called Sea of Tiberias). Peter must have missed his business – a fishing company run by him and his brother, and the Zebedee family. With Peter at the time were the Zebedee boys, Thomas the Doubter, Nathanael and two others.
They all went fishing, fished all night and caught nothing. At dawn, Jesus stood on the shore. They did not recognize him, just like Mary of Magdala did not recognize him on Easter Sunday. Jesus: “Caught any fish?” The disciples: “No!” The curt answer shows annoyance. Jesus knows where the fish are without an electronic device. He tells them where to cast the net. Success! It was so full of fish they were unable to pull it in. Now the “teacher’s pet,” called “the one whom Jesus loved,” recognized Jesus’ voice, like Mary of Magdala did on Easter Sunday. His faith speaks, “It is the Lord.” Peter was naked in the boat, (as was the custom). He dressed and jumped into the water. The others brought the boat dragging the net full of fish. Jesus had a fire going, roasting fish, baking bread. At Jesus’ request, they added some of their own 153 keepers. Jesus served them as he had done before his death. Breakfast in silence. They were afraid to speak up, still confused – wondering about their renewed, resurrected Lord.
The rest of today’s gospel is the commissioning of Simon Peter. In the Gospel of Luke, the role of Simon is developed from his occupation. Fishing becomes a metaphor for mission. In Luke 5:1-11, after an astonishing catch of fish, Jesus says to Simon, “From now on you will be catching human beings.” Here, in John, the metaphor for mission is shepherd. Three times Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Why three? Simon had publicly denied him three times. Simon affirms his love three times. After each affirmation, Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep (or lambs).” The role of shepherd of the flock is a divine role. In Ezekiel 34:14, God says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” In John 10:11, Jesus takes up the work of his Father when he says, “I am the good shepherd.” Now, the work of Father and Son is delegated to Simon Peter. In John 13:37-38, Peter protested that he would follow Jesus to his death. Jesus replied, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” Now close to the end of John’s gospel, the subject of Peter’s death returns. Jesus says to him, “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands … and someone will lead you where you do not want to go.” The author observes, “He said this signifying by what kind of death he (Peter) would glorify God.” Tradition claims that he died by crucifixion. Now, when old, he would be ready to follow Jesus to the death. Therefore, Jesus says once more to Simon Peter, “Follow me.”