In today’s Gospel, Peter has an intensely personal encounter with the Risen Lord. Three times Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Each time the question is asked, Peter must go deeper in his response. His first response might have been little more than an automatic reflex. When the question is repeated, Peter is forced to ponder it further. By the third time, he feels his utter nakedness and vulnerability before the Lord, so he blurts out, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” The Lord does indeed know everything; he knows us better than we know ourselves.
To the triple affirmation of love that Peter gives to Jesus, Jesus responds with a renewed command: “Follow me.” This is what Jesus says to us when we tell him that we love him. Loving the Lord does not mean that we simply stand in his Presence telling him that we love him. Love requires us to follow him. It implies that we make a gift of ourselves. Our words must be put into action.
The path of following Jesus is unique for each person. For the Apostles in the first reading, it meant being arrested and reprimanded by the Sanhedrin. It also meant giving testimony about Jesus and proclaiming the Good News. In that moment, “Follow me” meant that they had to tell the high priest that they were under obedience to an authority higher than his, namely the authority of God Himself: “We must obey God rather than men.” In effect, the Apostles say to the high priest: “Because God said, ‘Follow me’ and we said ‘yes’ to him, we will obey him instead of you.” Their personal encounter with the risen Lord and their reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit, “whom God has given to those who obey him,” enabled the Apostles to proclaim the Good News in the face of threats and hostility. Even more, they were able to rejoice “that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.”
Without their encounter with the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they would not have had the courage and strength to speak to the Sanhedrin in this manner. We know what our human nature comes up with when we are not relying on God – nothing! The experience of the seven Apostles who fished all night is a vivid image of human effort without divine guidance and strength: they caught nothing. Jesus appears to them at dawn, a sign that he is the Light of the World. His instruction about casting the net over the right side of the boat seems so simple as to be pointless, yet when they do it, they catch an abundance of large fish. John, the beloved disciple, realizes what has happened: their success in catching the fish comes from Jesus not themselves. When this insight strikes him, he spontaneously exclaims, “It is the Lord!” This should be our grateful response whenever we see signs of God at work in our lives and in the world: “It is the Lord!”
Even when the Lord reveals himself, he is still shrouded in mystery. With our eyes, we cannot see past the appearance of an ordinary man standing on the shore, preparing a simple breakfast of fish and bread. But with faith, we can see further. John’s own deeper insight into Jesus’ true identity is given us in today’s second reading. Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain” who is “worthy to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” At the proclamation of divine glory, “the elders fell down and worshiped.” When the eyes of our hearts are opened to the awesome presence of God, we too are moved to fall down and worship. Or, like Peter, we jump out of the “boat” – the space of our self-will where we should never have been in the first place – and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus.
Today gives us an opportunity to give thanks for our many personal encounters with the risen Lord. It is also an opportunity to ponder deeply both the question posed to Peter, “Do you love me?”, and the challenge that love brings with it, “Follow me.” Pope Benedict in the Spiritual Reflection sums up beautifully the effects of growing through our personal encounters with the Lord: “Behold: those who meet the Risen Jesus are inwardly transformed; it is impossible ‘to see’ the Risen One without ‘believing’ in him. Let us pray that he will call each one of us by name and thus convert us, opening us to the ‘vision’ of faith.” The Pope Emeritus adds, “Faith is born from the personal encounter with the Risen Christ.”
Do I have the will and enthusiasm to follow Jesus? Am I pursuing a personal encounter with Jesus, the Risen Christ through prayer? Do I believe that Jesus calls me to be a fisher of men as he called his disciples?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.