On this Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus appears to his disciples for the third time. This appearance is particularly touching, as Jesus again expresses compassion for and patience with his disciples, while at the same time insisting on their following him as the Risen Lord, while at the same time taking care of his ‘flock.’
Jesus is standing on the shore watching his disciples out on the lake reverting to their former life as fishermen. For Peter, this moment had to call to mind a few other life-changing encounters with Christ. Jesus calls out to his friends: “Have you caught anything?” knowing full well they have been unsuccessful. Then he tells them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” Following Jesus’ instruction leads them to a miraculous catch.
This encounter with the Risen Jesus had to remind Peter of his first meeting with Jesus. Similarly at that time, Jesus instructed Peter to ‘put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.’ (Luke 5:4) Surely it also reminded all of the disciples of another instruction of Jesus: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Thus, John (the one Jesus loved) was able to recognize and instruct Peter, “It is the Lord.” (John 21:7)
How important it is for us to discover the truth that ‘apart from Jesus we can do nothing.’ This is particularly important in discovering one’s own vocation in life. I reflect upon my earlier life, and see the truth of this. As a young man, I had so much; a great job, a house, I was dating and (in my mind) well on my way to getting married and starting a family.
And yet, despite all of that, even in the numerous and wonderful relationships that were a part of my life, something was missing… And it was not as if I was apart from the Lord or ignoring my faith. I was active in my parish and regularly receiving the sacraments…and yet something was missing. The Lord was calling me to ‘follow him’ and I was following instead my own plan… “apart from me you can do nothing.”
It was only after answering His call to follow Him that my life was complete. It was only after living the life that He created me to live, that my life finally made sense.
Once Peter realizes it is Jesus, he and the other disciples are invited to sit with Jesus and share a meal of fish and bread: “Come have breakfast.” (John 21: 12) This is strong imagery for Eucharist. Then, Jesus has this marvelous interaction with Peter. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these.” (John 21: 15) Three times, Peter professes his love for Jesus. Three times, Jesus instructs Peter to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep.”
Finally, Jesus instructs Peter to “Follow me.” (John 21:19) Here in-lies the great commission for the Church; for all of us. We are to recognize that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. We are to hear in a clear and concrete way Jesus’ instruction to “feed my lambs.” We, too, are to follow the Risen Jesus in our life.
The great commission of Jesus is heard again in this touching and very personal encounter between Peter and the Risen Lord. We who know him from our own personal faith experience are to be his witnesses to the world. We are to preach to people and to testify that Jesus is the One sent by God as judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10: 40-43) We are to give expression to our faith by concrete actions of charity. “Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs.”
I pray that all may recognize the ways that the Risen Lord is walking with each of us; calling each of us. I pray that each of us may have the grace and courage to follow the Risen Lord wherever He leads. I pray we may all have the generosity of heart to love those to whom we are sent, that they, too, may know Jesus Christ.