BY THE BONFIRE

THE VOICES IN OUR HEADS
May 28, 2020
SIGNATURES
May 30, 2020

Homily for Friday after Ascension (7th Wk of Easter), 29 May 2020, John 21:15-19

People sometimes ask me what Jesus did during those 40 days after he was raised from the dead, before he ascended into heaven. My simple answer is, he needed time to also raise his disciples back from the dead. Something about them had died too, after their leader and master was crucified.
The stories in the Gospels about the apparitions of the risen Jesus to his disciples have a common pattern—he is restoring them. Two of them had fallen out and broken away already. They were not traveling to Emmaus; they were escaping. He had to intercept them to reroute their journey back to Jerusalem, to reunite them with the community. One of them was not in speaking terms with the rest. I am of course talking about Thomas; John says in a cryptic way he was “not with them” when Jesus first appeared in the upper room. He had to touch Jesus’ wounds first before his own wounded relationship with his community could be be healed. Mary Magdalene and the other women had to struggle with the sexist attitudes of these androcentric, patriarchal male disciples who wouldn’t trust their testimony just because they were women.
They were all actually in a deep state of trauma and grief. They were too bewildered and confused to even understand the instruction of the angels that Jesus was asking them return to Galilee and meet him there. So they huddled together like scared dogs in Jerusalem licking their wounds. Jesus had to break into that upper room to be able to get them out and liberate them from their collective fear.
Remember they had promised to stick it out with him? Peter even swore he was ready to die for him. But where were they when he was arrested and crucified? I am therefore not surprised that one of the traditional hymns that we sing at the stations of the cross on Good Friday is a question that says, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh oh oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I don’t know but I get amused when I sing that song, because it is rubbing it in. “Nanunumbat, o nangungunsensiya,” as they would say in Tagalog. I don’t think however that Jesus would ever do that to us—make us want to wallow in guilt and hang ourselves like Judas did.
In today’s Gospel, we have the reversal of the denial scene which happened at sundown. This one is happening at sunrise. I use my imagination and I am inclined to believe that there was also a rooster crowing, not to announce the coming of darkness but to welcome the breaking of dawn by the sea of Tiberias. There is also a bonfire, by the way, to remind us of that infamous bonfire where Peter was warming his hands when a servant girl asked him three times if he was not one of the disciples of the man from Nazareth who had just been arrested.
John has a very interesting way of intensifying the drama of this Easter Encounter of Jesus with Peter, a similar scene that would lead to the removal of the black veil that covers his heart and soul. But first he had to answer the question DO YOU LOVE ME? Not once, but three times. Enough to be able to bring back to Peter’s memory the three times that he said, I DO NOT KNOW HIM. It is Jesus’ way of raising him back from the dead—by inviting him to say one word of love, for every word of denial. I call it a renewal of vows.
John tells us Peter was grieved after Jesus asked him a third time. The Greek word is “ELUPÉTHÉ”. Other versions translate it differently—like, Peter was “distressed,” “saddened,” or “deeply hurt.” I do not think it was because he felt that the Lord was doubting him. He was doubting himself all over again.
I imagine that he was in tears when he said, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” I try to read his heart and I have a feeling that what he wanted to say was, “Lord, you know how weak, how consistently inconsistent I have been since that day when we first met. Didn’t I fall on my knees when you filled up my boat the first time and tell you, “Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.”? And when you showed up again by the shore and filled my boat a second time, and John said it was you, didn’t I jump into the water to hide my face from you in shame? I have told you over and over again, I AM NOT WORTHY, I AM NOT QUALIFIED, I AM WEAK. I can only say, I love you, in spite of myself.”
The resurrection of Peter: I think this is the proper title for our Gospel today. He had to learn to be a lamb, before he could grow into a Shepherd. He had to allow himself to be fed, before he could feed the flock. And before he could lead the Church, he had to learn to die to himself and to allow Jesus to lead him by the hand.
I will tell you one secret, all of us bishops and priests, and I am sure including Pope Francis himself, we draw a lot of consolation from this Gospel passage. Sometimes, like Peter, we are also tempted to despair about ourselves when we are confronted by our own weaknesses. Remember Paul asking the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” only to be told, “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection; it is when I am weak that I am strong.“ (2Cor.12:9) This passage is consoling for us because it assures us that with Jesus, even if our commitments are breakable, they are also renewable. He just wants to make sure that if we go on with our mission to feed the lambs, it is for no other reason than FOR LOVE OF THE SHEPHERD TO WHOM THEY BELONG.

 

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