Today’s gospel story appears in the gospels of Luke, Matthew and John. Luke and Matthew place this event at the beginning of Jesus ministry. After this amazing catch of fish Jesus tells Peter and the others that from now on they would be fishers of people.
In all three accounts of his encounter with the disciples Jesus comes to them after they’d spent a long night on the sea catching nothing. Empty nets meant empty pockets and they had families to feed. Wondering what a carpenter would know about fishing they humoured Jesus by setting the nets again and ending up with overflowing nets.
Applying this scene to ourselves we might come to trust the truth that Jesus is with us and comes to strengthen us when we are discouraged and thinking of giving up because all our efforts at trying to be faithful, trying to be honest and just, trying to be a good student, trying to be a good spouse, trying to be a good parent seem to have come to nothing. We see ourselves as holding empty nets. But Jesus is with us, encouraging us and telling us, ‘try again, and don’t give up.’ In the end our nets will be full because trusting in Christ’s presence and grace in our live we do ‘try again’.
But the most important part of today’s gospel is the exchange between Jesus and Peter. We are all familiar with Peter’s shameless behavior at the trial of Jesus. Three times, swearing on an oath, “I do not know the man.” Peter had promised so much and Peter failed so miserably. In the presence of the other Apostles Peter promised ‘Even though I must die with you, I will never deny you.” For his three denials Christ asks for three affirmations of Peter’s love; ‘Simon, son of John do you love me more than these?’ “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” And Peter is given the commission, ‘Feed my lambs, and feed my sheep.’ Jesus reaffirmed his choice of Peter as the shepherd of his flock despite his sinful denial of Jesus.
Earlier Jesus had changed Simon’s name to Peter, the rock. A rock on which Jesus would build his church. But Peter seems to be made more of quicksand than rock. Even after this threefold profession of love Peter showed how fragile a person he was. The apostle Paul taught, as did all the apostles, that it was faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah that made a person right with God. The requirements of circumcision and the law were things of the past. We know of the struggles in the early church between Jewish and Gentile Christians over this issue. In his letter to the Galatians Paul tells of his need to stand up to Peter. Paul writes; ‘When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face because he stood self – condemned; for until certain people came from James he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. When I saw they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel I said Peter before them all, if you though a Jew live like a gentile and not like a Jew how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ Paul challenged Peter for his hypocrisy.
The message of this part of the gospel is a message of mercy and forgiveness. It is a message we all need to hear. And we are to show that same mercy and forgiveness to others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. Jesus, who promised to be with us always, even to the end of time. The Vicar of Christ on earth is the Pope. The Popes are human just as Peter was human, with strengths and weaknesses. Our church is made up of humans, humans who are mistake making beings, sinners struggling to be saints. Through the centuries we have great and holy Popes and we’ve had mercenary and scandalous Popes. The last gift Pope Benedict gave to the church was the message that being Pope need not be a lifetime job. If you can’t do it let the Holy Spirit find your replacement. Pope Francis now has the job of feeding the sheep and the lambs. As every Pope before him he will have his supporters and his critics. His public jesters of simple life style, simple liturgies, being available to people indicate he will be the Pope of the poor and neglected.
We continue this Mass praying for our new Holy Father, he knows he needs our prayers. After his election he asked the crowds in St. Peter’s square to bless him before he blessed the. May he always be open to the workings of the life-giving Spirit in his life and in the life of the Church.