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Fr Brendan’s Homily from 3rd Sunday of Easter – Sun 01 May

Fr Brendan’s Homily from 3rd Sunday of Easter – Sun 01 May

Easter third Sunday, year C (2022)

The Risen Lord Hosts Breakfast by the Lakeside

That’s a very long gospel and I’ve read it at length because I really think it tells of one of the most attractive scenes in all the gospels. There’s so much there for us to learn about our relationship to God and our life together as a Christian community.

At the start you get the sense that something of the wonder, the “glow”, if you like, of the resurrection has started to fade for the disciples of Jesus. They’ve got back to Galilee and don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. At last Peter, always the leader, makes a suggestion. “Well, I’m going fishing”. He’s going back to the old occupation he had before he met Jesus. It’s as though all the events of the past couple of years—the life with Jesus, the excitement of the early days, the tragedy in Jerusalem, even the meeting with the risen Lord—just hadn’t happened. If he and his fellow disciples are going to continue to be disciples they certainly will need a “second wind”.

I suppose too that they carry a big burden within themselves: a sense of failure, shame, and guilt, because they had all deserted Jesus at his hour of need and Peter, especially, despite his boast and bravado, had actually denied him.

Once again, as so often in these Easter stories, the risen Lord comes to meet people right where they are—not just physically but emotionally. There they are out on the lake fishing and it’s not going well; all night long they’ve caught nothing and now it’s early dawn. Jesus comes to them, not in a blaze of risen glory to overwhelm them, but just as a figure a long way off on the shore with a suggestion about where they might cast their nets so as to at last get a catch.

When they do so, as once before, they get so large a catch that their nets begin to break. That’s enough to trigger the faith of one of the disciples. Described in this gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and traditionally identified with St. John, he recognizes the figure on the shore as Jesus.

At which point Peter, who can’t wait to get to Jesus, puts on his clothes—a strange thing to do if you’re going for a swim—and jumps overboard to swim to Jesus.

And what does he find there? Jesus has made a little fire out of charcoal coals. He’s prepared breakfast for them. He’s got some fish of his own cooking there. But he invites them to bring some of the fish they’ve caught as well.

And so, in this wonderfully human way, they all have this little breakfast picnic there by the lakeside. This is the setting that Jesus has chosen to renew his relationship with the disciples and to restore them to their original calling—not being fishers of fish but fishers of people.

There is a bit of awkwardness, yes. As we are told, “None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was Jesus”. A nicely prepared meal, as we know, is always a good setting to repair a relationship.

Jesus acts as host. He takes the bread and gives it to them, and the same with the fish. These gestures recall the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He is reminding them that they are to celebrate the Eucharist as the way in which the Church will experience God’s hospitality till the end of time.

Then, only when they have been put at ease by this divine hospitality, does he move to heal the damaged relationship and their feelings of failure and guilt. Once again it is Peter who is singled out, because in a sense his failure represented the failure of them all. But no word of reproach or blame. No raking up the past at all. Just a focus entirely on the present in a three times repeated question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And after each time, a restored mission, “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep”. Peter is being restored to his leadership in the community, to be the chief shepherd of the flock, when Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has returned to the Father.

We are told that when Jesus repeated the question, “Do you love me?” a third time, Peter was deeply moved—protesting, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you”. Yes, he has been led, at a very deep level, to come to terms with his failure—his triple denial—but in such a gentle and positive way. No explicit mention of his past failure; no reproach. Jesus looks entirely to the present and the future. Precisely as one who has recognized his weakness and failure, who knows the tender mercy of God, Peter is now so much better equipped to be the kind of leader, the compassionate shepherd, that Jesus wants him to be.

I think it’s very helpful for us often to place ourselves in that scene—with all the ways we feel we’ve let ourselves and others and Jesus down—and reflect on how, in the light of the way he dealt with the failure of Peter and those disciples, he would deal with us.

In a sense, whenever we come to the Eucharist, we come to that lakeside breakfast put on by Jesus. We come as his guests, who he graciously welcomes and feeds at no cost. He doesn’t ask us to rake up our past but, as with Peter, focuses on where we are at present. Are we people of love? Are we people who have a concern for others—who feed his lambs?

As I said at the beginning, there’s so much about our relationship with God, our relationship with Jesus, and our life in community, in this wonderful scene.

Brendan Byrne, SJ.
St James the Apostle, Hoppers Cross North

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