(John 21:1-19) What would you do if your very best friend, the one you had always counted on to be by your side through thick and thin, suddenly turned on you? Instead of standing up for you, what if he claimed that he had never heard of you, then took off and didn’t even have the courage to come see you before you died? Would you still trust him? Would you even want to be friends with him? This was the situation that Jesus and Peter found themselves in in today’s Gospel.
I have always had a special love for St. Peter. I love his impulsivity – the way he dropped everything without hesitation to follow Jesus, the way he leapt into the sea that morning when he saw Jesus on the beach. I love his spirit and the way he wore his heart on his sleeve. I love the way he loved our Lord! But despite Peter’s great loyalty and affection for Jesus, on the night of our Lord’s Passion he discovered how challenging love could be.
True love is demanding. It asks us to set aside our preferences, our likes and dislikes, even our fears and our misgivings – to do things that we might prefer not to do, to go places we don’t want to go. Sometimes it even asks us to give up our lives for the good of others. In his moment of testing, Peter failed – not because he didn’t love our Lord, but because he gave way to pride. He had imagined that he had it all together. Sleeping when he ought to have been praying, he had relied on himself instead of on God’s grace and strength. Yet what a comfort it is to know that no matter what we have done – no matter how serious our fall may have been – in His great mercy, the Lord is always ready to forgive us.
That morning, as Peter walked along the beach with Jesus, he saw not only who he was, but also who he was called to be. Peter’s love had been tested, and he was ready to answer the Lord’s question not only with his words, but also with his actions. He was ready for the keys of the Kingdom. He was ready to be the rock on which Christ would build His Church. As the disciples’ nets overflowed with fish that morning after they trusted in the Lord, Peter finally understood that without Jesus at his side, he could do nothing. “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, I love you.” “Then feed my sheep.”
The question that Jesus asked Peter on the beach that morning is the same one He asks us each day. Jesus comes to us in the guise of our families, our friends, and those around us who are in need. Everything that we do (or fail to do) for them is as though we do it for our Lord. Jesus is the frightened voice of the child who calls out, “Mommy, I need you!” He is the friend who is going through a hard time who asks, “Do you have time to get together?” He is the voice of the Church asking for volunteers to provide meals and clothing for families in need. Like Peter, we may not recognize Jesus right away. But if we look for Him in every moment, just as John did – simply, through the eyes of love – we will see that the Lord is always there! Again and again, He asks, “Do you love me?” And each time we answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you!” But words are not enough. Jesus also calls us to action. “Then feed my sheep.” We must serve others, just as He did – with humility and patience, generosity and love, counting on our Lord to give us all of the graces and strength that we need to love as He did. And with God at our side, nothing is impossible.
– Sharon van der Sloot