Saturday, April 21, 2007

3rd Sunday of Easter (C): The Confession of Peter

Martyrdom of St Peter (1546-50) by Michelangelo
Cappella Paolina, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican
The tradition that Peter was crucified upside down
is found in the apocryphal Acts of Peter.

The Text: John 21:1-19

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."
They said to him, "We also will come with you."
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?"
They answered him, "No."
So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something."
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught."
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast."
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?"
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples

after being 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?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."
Jesus said to him the third time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a 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.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go."
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
As the midterm elections in the Philippines are fast approaching, candidates are now doing everything to get themselves elected. The cheapest medium is the word. If poets wrestle with words and the Just Man meditates the Word day and night (Psalm 1), the Politician can manipulate
words. Words are de-sacralized; emptied of symbols and transcendence. His words become banal –"only words", devoid of responsibility. The Politicians creates an aphoria of words and actions, of theoria and praxis. One line of a song says it all: "Salita, puro ka salita, kulang ka naman sa gawa".

Such an aphoria affects not only the Politician

Peter exhibits such comportment in the Gospel of John. What he says is the opposite of what he does. In John 6, people board boats from sea of Tiberias to look for Jesus apparently to benefit from the miracle of multiplication of loaves that Jesus performed earlier. Jesus takes the occasion to teach the crowd (the Bread of Life discourse). Like a prophet and unlike a politician, Jesus does not speak "smooth things" just to please the crowd (cf. Isa 30:10). The crowd reacts: "This teaching [Greek "logos", "word"] is difficult; who can accept it" (John 6:60)? Even if Jesus tries to clarify his "word", many of his disciples decide no longer to follow him (John 6:66). So Jesus addresses the Twelve for them to make their own decision too. But Simon Peter declares strongly, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words [rēmata] of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69). Perfect words.

But we the readers of the Gospel of John know that those words of Peter are empty, "only words". Peter will deny Jesus three times (John 18:17,25,27). When pressed if he is Jesus’ disciples, he would say "Ouk eimi" (I am not).

From chapters 1-20 of the Gospel of John, Peter is presented as an anti-model of a disciple, a man who has no word of honor. At the washing of the feet of the disciples, he gets the wrong end of the stick (13:6-10). Even at the scene of the resurrection, readers find his character comical -- he is outrun by the Beloved Disciple (John 20:4).

But in this chapter (ch. 21), the very last chapter of the Fourth Gospel (the reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter C), Peter is portrayed in a better light. Scholars today agree that Chapter 21 belong to a later period, no longer written by the author of the Fourth Gospel but added to the Gospel by an editor. If this is the case, chapter 21 reflects a certain tradition among the early Christians that carries themes such as Peter’s renewal of discipleship, his role as a shepherd of the Church, his death as a martyr, the role of the Beloved Disciple, and its relation to Jesus' second coming (R. Brown). These are concerns, both pastoral and theological, that preoccupied the members of the Christian community in Second Century A.D.,--of the community of the Beloved Disciple. Chapter 21 attempts to clarify such issues especially the role of Peter after he failed to pass the test of loyalty to the Lord.

After the miraculous catch of fish and the Beloved Disciple’s recognition of the Risen Jesus (vv. 6-7), the disciples with the Risen Lord gather around a charcoal fire, almost like a beach picnic (v. 8). The last time we hear of such gathering around a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the high priest. The Beloved Disciple and also Peter were there with the slaves and the police warming themselves at the fire as Jesus was being tried before the Sanhedrin (John 18:18). This was the scene of Peter denying three times that he was with Jesus.

The writer of the Fourth Gospel wants his readers to associate the gathering around a charcoal fire in chapter 21 with this sad event in the life of Peter. As Peter denied Jesus three times, so Jesus asks Peter three times to love (be loyal to) him (vv. 15-17). Very often, "love" in Bible means loyalty (Deut 6:5). At the third question of loyalty, Peter felt hurt (v. 17). It is on this third question that he realizes that he betrayed the Lord three times.

Nonetheless, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, entrusts his flock to Peter. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is concerned of his flock now that he will no longer be seen in their midst. Jesus does not abandon them. He appoints Peter as their shepherd.

As a shepherd Peter must also be ready must to "lay down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Jesus predicts such a violent fate of Peter in a metaphor: "someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." He would suffer martyrdom, just like many others, as a consequence of his following of Jesus.

With this figure of Peter with both lights and shadows, he would be a fitting model of identification for us today who see ourselves failing in our loyalty to Jesus but still realize we are given opportunities to renew our commitment to the risen Lord.


vivien said...

Fr. Randy, what are the differences in meanings of the 3 commands of Jesus to Peter: Feed my lambs; feed my sheep; and tend my sheep. In the Claretian Daily Gospel, tend my sheep refers to seeking out the lost ones. This I understand. Feed the lambs - tell his (Peter's)story of sin and forgiveness; feed the sheep - forgive as he was forgiven. Could you, please, explain further the last two meanings? I cannot relate the feeding with the meaning
for the lambs and sheep. Any cultural meanings here? Thanks, Father - Vivien

Bruzer said...

Greetings again from Oz, Randolf!
Thanx so much for sharing your tho'ts. I enjoy reading them.
Warm regards,

Domingo Rayco, Jr. said...

this is a rejoinder to vivien's comment. vivien, i think you have a keen eye for details & interest in biblical historical criticism. i'm also using the bible diary (2007) published by the claretian fathers. the commentary is by megan mckenna. in fairness to her, i'd like to quote her: "he [peter] is to tell the story of his sins & forgiveness (lambs); he is to forgive everyone everything as he has been forgiven (feed sheep); & he is to go out & search for the lost ones, as jesus the good shepherd has found him (tend my sheep)."
i'm tempted to make my own comments, but i'd rather leave it to fr. randy to make a professional comment.
nevertheless, my layman's sense is that all three commands are the same. mckeena, i think took "lamb" alone and put the biblical meaning in the sense of the "lamb of god who takes away the sins of the world". thus, the connection to "sin & forgiveness".
yun lang.
jun r. :-)