Third Sunday of Easter
At a critical juncture in the life of Jesus, the apostles, and indeed the nascent Church, Jesus asks Peter the question: “Do you love me?” Why this question? Why not, “Do you remember everything I said and taught?” Or “Are you up to this?” If I was in Jesus’ place, the question would be, “You just denied me three times! Can I still trust you?” Why was the question, “Do you love me?”
“Do you love me?” It is in the context of this question that I would like to reflect on today’s scripture readings. Here are my three points:
1. “Do You Love Me?” Was Jesus going through a crisis? Was that post-resurrection morning breakfast a pity party? Surely not! As the risen Lord, Jesus was no longer fully human and fully divine. He was all divine. He was all God. God does not lack for love, because, God is Jesus did not ask Peter the question because he needed love and assurance. Rather, he asked the question because without understanding God as love, Peter could not continue Jesus’ mission. Jesus asked Peter the question because, the ministry that Jesus was entrusting to Peter was a ministry of love. Could Peter love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved God? Without having learnt to love God in the same way that Jesus loved God, Peter would not be who Jesus wanted him to be. Without the love that Jesus had for God, Peter would not be able to carry on the redeeming mission that Jesus began. Today Jesus is inviting us, just as he invited Peter, to love God as he loved God.
2. Love God and Love People. Each time Peter answered Jesus saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Jesus referred him back to the nascent church by replying, “Feed my lambs.” In other words, Peter’s love for God would have to translate into love for people. In fact, Jesus' earthly mission was twofold: – uncompromised love of God and unconditional love for humanity. Now it was time to pass on that mission to Peter and the Church. For the Church’s mission to be a continuation of the mission of Jesus, Peter must learn to love people as Jesus loved people. Jesus loved people with gentleness and kindness. He was patient with sinners, understanding of the weak, invited those on the periphery into the mainstream, welcomed everyone to dine with him, while he challenged those in power and authority to humility and service. He invited his followers to forgive others, to love their enemies, to give without measure, to give their cloak off their back, to walk the extra mile, and to refrain from judging. If Peter must carry on what Jesus began, he must love people in the same way that Jesus did. Today Jesus is inviting us, just as he invited Peter, to love people as he loved people.
3. The Crux of the Religion/Catholicism. Today, we are far removed from the Jesus-Peter encounter. Over the past two thousand years Catholicism has been established as an organized religion. As any other organized religion, we Catholics have our own practices, our own system, our own language, our own liturgy, our own laws, our own space, our own organizational structure. But what is at the center of it all? Today, more and more people, especially, the young, are abandoning organized religion, and Catholicism is the biggest loser. What is the reason? When Jesus began his ministry, he encountered Judaism as religion and culture. Opposition to him began to build when he went beyond the boundaries of “religion”. He was accused breaking the laws, of blaspheming, of speaking a different language, of eating and drinking with sinners. As opposition began to build against Jesus, a lawyer came and asked him, “Which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus interpreted all the commandments through the lens of love –radical love of God and radical love of neighbor. Today, we are present in this church because we are Catholics! What is at the center of it all? What is the crux of our Catholic existence? If religion and Catholicism will remain relevant, it will only be because we will imitate Christ-like love. Perhaps, we must re-learn love. Perhaps, we have to re-learn to love like Jesus loved.
I began this homily by asking, why was Jesus question to Peter, “Do you love me?” Now we understand the reason. Today, Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?” What shall we say? As we receive communion, let us repeat Peter’s answer, “Lord, you know that I love you!”
- Fr. Satish Joseph