Gospel reflection for May 1, 2022, Third Sunday of Easter

Often we think of the Judaism of Jesus as a singular religious entity absent various sectarian concerns that marks modern Judaism, yet that was clearly not the case. Observant Jews fell into different camps and held to a variety of practices. Jerusalem, the site of the Temple, fell under the domain of the priests, holding to a more rigid and sacrifice-oriented practice. The Judaism of the Galilee, from where Jesus and his disciples hailed, had developed religious practices related to their needs and centered on the synagogue.

The disciples of Jesus, then, are at odds with the priests in Jerusalem first because of their Galilean roots, and then as a result of their messianic proclamation grounded in their belief that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

If the Sadducees and Pharisees in Jerusalem thought that they had settled the matter with Jesus when they crucified him then they are certainly ill-prepared for what is to follow.

Bypassing all of the ordinary religious structures of the Temple, the apostles of Jesus took right to the public square to announce the “Good News” that the messianic age has begun with the triumph of Jesus over the tomb. We know through our reading of the Acts of the Apostles that this will not go well for the apostles, but we also know that this does not deter them from the mission that they have received through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel passage this weekend prepares the disciples, and especially Peter, for the consequences of the mission to come.

Like any of us who are filled with zeal and excitement over a new project, mission, or purpose in life, it can become very easy to overlook the potential downsides to what we have undertaken. In what appears to be a perfectly sensible and calming decision, Peter invites the others to go fishing at the Sea of Galilee. This means that they have left Jerusalem and the tensions there following the death of Jesus and the reports of his resurrection. This is an opportunity to regroup and to settle things down as they waited for the onset of their own mission.

Then, and yet again, the extraordinary happened. A stranger is on the shore near where they moor their boat. He has built a fire and seems to be waiting for them. They do not immediately recognize him, but the beloved disciple realizes that it must be the Lord. To their embarrassment they have spent the night on the water and have caught no fish. While they were not looking to make any profit from the sale of fish, this isn’t a problem, but it means they will have to buy food in order to eat.

The stranger, Jesus, has them recast their nets, this time to the other side of the boat, where they haul in a catch of 153 large fish.

Jesus already has fish on the fire, so they are able to relax, enjoy his presence and recover from a long night of fishing. Jesus, of course, does not just come to visit, as always, he has a purpose and a challenge for the disciples.

In what is both welcoming and uncomfortable for Peter, Jesus asks him, not once but three times, “do you love me?” Peter cannot help but be reminded of the horror he felt when, on the night that Jesus was arrested, he denied even knowing Jesus not once, but three times. Peter has been gifted this amazing and awesome opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus, even though it seems to annoy and pain him to do so.

But then, Jesus warns Peter that there will come a time when he will be handed over and forced to go, in chains, to where he would not want to go. Yes, Jesus reminds him, the mission will be filled with success and he will see the fruits of his labors as the Gospel spreads through the empire, but it comes at a cost. Peter, like Jesus, will someday suffer his own final persecution and death at the hands of the Romans. Not alone in this, so will each of the others, save perhaps the beloved disciple.

Peter, still uncomfortable and unsure, asks about the fate of the beloved disciple. This hints at what might be a bit of a rivalry or jealousy between the two of them. The response of the Lord to Peter here is important for us as Jesus tells Peter not to worry about the other disciples, but that he must follow Jesus. The others will have to come to terms with their fate as well, and on their own.

That is our greatest challenge as disciples. Sometimes we can be left feeling that we are in this alone. Others have abandoned us, or are meandering different paths, and here we are feeling alone. Yet, we are not alone, Jesus walks with us, and takes us to whatever cross we are to carry. No two of us walk the same path, as each of us has our own struggle and our own gift of faith. As long as, with Peter, we can say confidently to the Lord that we love him, our hope is secured.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.