3rd Sunday of Easter Reflection by Patrick Sinozich
In today’s gospel, Peter appears to have returned to his former life of fishing, filling the void left by the death of Jesus. (In moments of uncertainty, don’t many of us return to that which is familiar?) However, when Jesus arrives on the scene, revealing himself from the shore to the disciples, Peter (in the fishing boat) jumps into the water and swims to him, an impulsive response to the presence of the Lord, similar to when he ran to the tomb, after hearing from the women that it was empty. (In that case it wasn’t the presence of the Lord that propelled him, but his absence.)
Peter’s response to the presence of Jesus is to jump in, while the reaction of the other disciples is to row in the boat (perhaps because they’re now hauling a huge catch of fish, courtesy of Jesus’ directions.) Peter doesn’t care if he gets wet. He doesn’t care about what others think of him. He single-mindedly wants to get to the Lord. He is an impulsive responder. On the other hand, the disciple Jesus loved (let’s call him John, who remains in the boat) is more reflective. He recognizes Jesus first, but he’s going to take his time, rowing to the shore with the rest of the gang to meet Jesus.
Sometimes our faith will be like Peter’s, jumping with excitement to respond to God’s action. Other times it will be like John’s, rowing the boat of faith with a clear and persistent purpose. Either approach is fine, as long as our focus, our orientation and our goal is in Jesus’ direction. In this passage we have contrasting behavior: recognizing the Lord vs responding to the Lord; contemplation vs action.
Later in the passage, in the second part of the story, Peter gets a one-on-one with Jesus. It’s part interview, part interrogation and part second chance. Jesus asks Peter the same (or similar) question three times, “Do you love me?” This thrice repeated question of Jesus, “Do you love me?” directly parallels Peter’s threefold denial, not of Jesus, but of himself and his own identity as a disciple. While Jesus was being held by Pilate, Peter, waiting outside, was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” Peter answered, “I am not.” Peter denies his deepest truest self, his identity as a follower of Jesus.
Now offering Peter a chance at redemption or change of heart, Jesus doesn’t ask him, “Why did you deny me?” nor “Are you sorry?” Rather, the question Jesus asks is, “Do you love me?” I find this both touching and illuminating, indicating that Jesus is more interested in a loving and merciful relationship than in punishment or apology.
Whenever we may be filled with dismay at our own shortcomings, or not willing to get wet in our response to God, it is passages like these that show different approaches to following Jesus, as well as serving as reminders that a heart filled with love is primary and essential.
By responding to Jesus’ suggestion to “cast the net over the right side of the boat” or by showing us a rapid and positive response, Peter can help us to be ready to have faith in the risen Jesus when we see him at work in our lives, bringing abundance, or with us, sharing a meal.