3rd Sunday of Easter
Reading 1. Acts 5: 27b-32
Reading II. Revelation 5: 11-14
Gospel. John 21: 1-19 (Feed my sheep).
Today's three readings all deal with manifestations of the Risen Christ although in different ways. In the Acts of the Apostles we have an historical account of the first efforts of the Apostles to bring the message of Jesus to the world. In today's gospel we have another appearance of the Risen Lord to the Apostles--this time in Galilee on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. Finally, the second reading from the Book of Revelation presents us with a prophetic vision of the Risen Christ at the Heavenly Altar.
In the first reading we find that the Apostles have been brought before the Jewish leaders for violating their command to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and the other Apostles explain why they cannot stop teaching, why they must show by their words and deeds the Risen Lord to the world. "We must obey God rather than men." Once again they bear witness to the Resurrection and its meaning.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Today's reading skips over the immediate reaction of the members of the Sanhedrin to these shocking words. They are furious and want to slay the apostles but a very wise man, Gamaliel, urges them to proceed with more caution. He tells the assembly that if the apostles are not from God, their movement will soon falter and die. However, if they are of God nothing that men can do will stop them. In fact, opposing them might mean opposing God himself. So time or providence will tell. The leaders follow Gamaliel's advice and let the Apostles off with only a flogging and a warning "to stop teaching in the name of Jesus."
But how could they after they had experienced the Risen Lord and received His Spirit? Today's gospel gives us St. John's account of the third appearance of Jesus to the Apostles at the shore of Lake Tiberias in Galilee. Remember that when our Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene on the first Easter Sunday, He told her to tell the Apostles to return to Galilee. Well, here they are back where they started from. He had called them from their fishing boats at the start of His career, and now they return to them.
After a night of fruitless effort a stranger appears on the shore at dawn and asks them if they've had any luck. When they answer, "No," He tells them to cast their nets in again and the result is incredible--the famous "miraculous draught of fish." They then realize that the stranger is the Lord and Peter, impetuous as always, jumps into the water and swims to shore. The others finally bring the heavily laden boat in and they all sit down to breakfast with Jesus. Apparently He had made a fire and was cooking. For breakfast He gave them bread and fish in the same way that He had fed the multitude.
Readers of this part of John's gospel have seen all sorts of sacred symbolism. However, I would like to focus on the conversation between Jesus and Peter after the meal was over. Peter gets his chance to atone for denying the Lord three times. Three times our Lord asks "do you love Me?" Each time when Peter answers "Yes, Lord," Jesus diverts or redirects his love. "Feed my lambs." "Tend my sheep." "Feed my sheep." Jesus had called Himself "the Good Shepherd" and now He turns over the shepherd's staff to Peter.
He is also turning something over to us. There is an old story about a man who loved mankind in general but hated every man he ever met. Sadly, there are many people whose so-called love for Jesus gets in the way of their love for their neighbor. Jesus is telling Peter and us that it can't work that way. Christians cannot sacrifice their children to the gods. Christians cannot let their neighbor go hungry or homeless. In the early days of the Church the pagans marveled not just at miraculous healings but at the behavior of ordinary Christians.
For example, when plagues would strike Roman cities, the citizens would flee leaving behind the sick and the dying to fend for themselves. Often, only the Christians would stay behind to care not only for their own brethren but for the pagans as well. Sometimes basic nursing care was all that it took to restore the sick to health. This love for neighbor marked the Christians out as different and was a major factor in the growth of the early Church.
In the weeks after Easter the second reading is taken from the "Book of Revelation." There we hear of St. John's vision of the Risen Christ, the Lamb of God, sitting at a throne or "heavenly altar" and receiving praise and thanksgiving from "every creature in heaven and on earth." It is the scene of the last days when the sheep will be separated from the goats. It is the time when Jesus will ask us, "Do you love me?"
St. Matthew depicts this same scene in his gospel. There, in chapter 25 our Lord, the king, is welcoming the just into the kingdom and praising them for their faithful service to Him. But they fail to understand:
Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and feed thee; or thirsty, and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and take thee in; or naked, and clothe thee?
Or when did we see thee sick, or in prison, and come to thee?
Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethern, you did it for Me.