I find it very difficult to be at odds with just about anyone. The truth is that I’m happiest when the people around me not only get along, but also enjoy one another. This propensity to be at peace with my fellow humans is likely a remnant from lessons offered by my parents, extended family and teachers far too long ago. In spite of the passage of time, their insistence that I love everyone remains etched in my memory. My parents taught me through their words and their example. They were sweetly affectionate toward one another and each let us know in his and her own way that we were loved as well. They also made it clear that we were to love one another accordingly. As a result, my sisters, brother and I were expected not to fight. When we did, our mom brought the error of our ways to our immediate attention. She reminded whichever of us were the culprits that we needed to have “charity” in our hearts. Eventually, I accepted that there was something to this “getting along” business. Ever since, I’ve tried to live accordingly. At times, I’ve experienced great success. At times, I’ve failed miserably. My successful attempts resulted in the relationships I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. My failures resulted in lost intimacy, lost trust, lost understanding, lost companionship, lost friendship, lost… You get the idea.
Though I’ve stored these losses in the recesses of my memory, the most minimal prompts return them to the forefront of my psyche. In an instant, the pain is back in full force. I find myself reviewing my mistakes. Over and over again, I ask myself what else I would have, could have or should have done to make things end differently. Sometimes, I truthfully answer that I did my best. I found it necessary to shake the dust from my sandals and to move on because I could do no more. Jesus himself offered this alternative when nothing else was possible. Sometimes, I shamefully answer that I was too fearful, too proud, too stubborn or too shallow to see the alternatives, much less to respond accordingly. On these occasions, the guilt sets in and I ask myself once again how I can make things right. My failures in this regard make today’s gospel (John 21:1-19) a most welcome reminder of Jesus’ position regarding such quandaries.
John tells us that the disciples had set out to fish for the day. Perhaps this was their attempt to regroup and to come to some understanding regarding all that had happened to Jesus before and after his death. Perhaps they hoped that this excursion into familiar waters would clear their heads. Perhaps they hoped to revisit the time when life was simpler and a torn net was their greatest worry. So it was that the disciples embraced their former trade. They were fishers-of-people turned fishers-of-fish once again. As it happened, after hours at sea, their nets remained empty. Their hearts remained empty of the peace they sought as well. The good news is that this wasn’t the case for long. In the midst of their disappointment, a voice called from the shore. The man who spoke invited the disciples to throw their nets to the other side of the boat. This familiar suggestion revealed immediately that the man on the shore was no stranger. Do you remember? Jesus told his friends to do the same thing on a less-than-productive day when he first met them. Unable to contain himself, Peter dove into the water and swam to Jesus. The others made their way in the boat with their net full of fish. When they arrived, they found that Jesus had prepared a small fire so they could share a meal with him. During this third appearance after his death, Jesus offered each of the disciples the bread and fish he had ready for them. Through this shared meal, Jesus assured his friends that they were one family again. Jesus also invited each one to get on with God’s work by serving others just as he had served them.
Though all had gone quite well during this happy reunion between Jesus and his friends, a bit of unfinished business remained between Jesus and Peter. If my own experience has taught me anything, it assures me that guilt is a pesky reminder of our misdeeds and that Peter hadn’t quite gotten over his guilt regarding his denial of Jesus. Perceptive and loving friend that he was, Jesus didn’t allow Peter to carry this burden with him. Rather, he gave Peter the opportunity to make things right again. Jesus asked The Rock in whom he’d placed so much faith, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter embraced the opportunity when he responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Still, Jesus repeated, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responded again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Finally, Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?” Poor Peter responded, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter’s heart had filled with remorse the moment he realized that he’d denied Jesus three times. So it was that Jesus offered Peter the opportunity to express his love three times. To seal their friendship, Jesus charged Peter with his greatest work: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” Jesus’ unconditional love allowed Peter to put his failures behind him and to get on with simply doing the best he could. How grateful I am to acknowledge that his same love allows you and me to do the same!
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