May 5, 2019: 3rd Sunday Easter C
This past week, I had the privilege of eating breakfast as a guest with the Benedictine monks at the St. Joseph Abbey in Covington. Normally at home, breakfast for me is a short 5-minute routine of throwing vegetables and fruit into a blender and then hurriedly drinking the soothie before heading to the office. At the refectory of the Benedictine monks, however, I was mesmerized by the mural paintings of famous Dom Gregory de Wit on every available interior surface. I could not but slow down with each bite of food to appreciate the scripture story being depicted on the walls. One panel of mural depicted the Old Testament story of Esau begging his twin brother Jacob for the bowl of lentil soup he had cooked. Esau just came back from a hunting trip famished and found his brother Jacob cooking lentil soup. in desperate hunger, Esau exchanged his birthright and family inheritance for a mere bowl of Jacob’s lentil soup. In that mural, I could not help but see the parallel to Jesus’ question to Peter as they were eating the miraculous catch of the fish, “Peter, do you love me more than these things,” perhaps referring to the fishing profession, the equipment, his life, and his pursuit of worldly goals. Are we also in some way trading our love for Christ with our love for the world?
For Peter, that early morning experience of encountering Risen Jesus at the charcoal fire was a deja vu experience. On the night of the arrest of Jesus by the charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter denied his Lord and friend three times in order to save his own skin. On that ominous night by the light of the moon, Peter betrayed his own bold promise to Jesus that he would follow Jesus and even die for him. However, on the dawning of a new day when the sun was about to rise, Jesus’ triple question at a different charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee, “Peter, do you love me,” was an opportunity for Peter to restore his love, loyalty, and commitment to Jesus. Peter not only received restoration of relationship with Jesus that morning; he received a triple command from Jesus to feed, tend, and love others.
Several years ago as I stood on the shores of Galilee, I pondered my own ‘Peter moment.’ It was when I denied Jesus numerous times through my own atheism, and my total disregard for someone’s dignity as a person, and when my own pride prevented others from knowing or loving Jesus. Yet I also recalled the moments when Jesus restored me of guilt of betraying him. The amazing truth is that the same Jesus who restored Peter’s loyalty and love restores ours. Follow me, Our Lord said to the disciples. These were the words he said when he first called them to be disciples, and the words to restore them to discipleship. These same words, follow me, are our call as well. Do not be afraid to give your all in following the Father’s will. Love and forgive even in the most difficult of human situations. In that simple question to us, “Do you love me,” the fire of His love purifies our lukewarm hearts and strengthens our resolve to tend, to feed, and encourage our family, friends, and strangers.
The only question that Jesus will ask us when we arrive at the gates of Heaven is, “Did you love?” What will our answer be?