We can just imagine the guilt that plagued Peter after he denied Jesus three times, one time swearing with an oath that he did not Jesus. Peter promised he would die with Jesus but never deny him. He was totally ashamed of himself. Jesus has called him a rock but he knew Peter was more like quick sand yet he wanted to build his church on this mistake making being he named Peter. Even when the risen Christ showed himself to the apostles after his resurrection we can imagine Peter couldn’t look Jesus in the eye he was so ashamed of himself.
In today’s gospel we heard of another of Jesus’ appearances to the apostles. Peter was a fisherman and he had a family to feed and so, for all the excitement in his life, he had to get back to work. Peter and his companions labored all night but still their nets were empty. Jesus calls to them from the shore and directs them to the other side of the boat and that’s what gave such a great catch.
Peter jumps into the water to quickly wade to shore and greet Jesus who has prepared them a breakfast of fish and bread. Jesus is about give Peter another chance asking him the simple question, ‘do you love me’? But he asks the same question three times to erase Peter’s three denials with his ‘yes Lord I love you, you know I love you.’ Each time Jesus tells Peter he is to demonstrate that love by service: “Feed my sheep, my lambs.” Wishing to show us how we demonstrate our love for him, Christ the Lord made it plain that it is by our concern and care for others.. Peter’s place in Christ’s community was made firm with the commands ‘feed by lambs, feed my sheep.’ Christ restores a humbled but forgiven Peter to his place as rock and shepherd.
Now we come to that part of today’s gospel that has a lot to say about many of us here. ‘When you were younger you used to fasten your belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’
I think this is a great description of old age. When we were young we had so much independence, we went where we wanted to go and did what we wanted to do. Not so much anymore. At this stage in our lives, whether we like it or not, we stretch out our hands, and let others bind them and take us where we rather would not go.
At one time or another it will be our time to let go. It won’t be easy, we may be resentful that we’ve come to this and resist it all as long as we can. Hopefully we won’t let ourselves become bitter and resentful toward those who are concerned about our well being. We might be tempted to feel we are unappreciated, we’re taking up space, we’re a burden, we’re disposal, like worn out slippers.
These feelings can be real but they are not true. Let’s face it, the time will come when we are asked to hand over the keys to our car and lose our freedom of mobility. We may have to give up the home in which we raised our families and move into a retirement home taking with us a few mementos of our past. We may have to use a cane of a walker. My doctor wants me to use a cane and I told him I don’t want to use one. He asked me, ‘why not’ and I told him, ‘I’m too proud’ and he asked me. ‘And what is it that comes before the fall?’ We may have to get stronger glasses or those hearing aids that never seem to work. Isn’t maddening when we can’t remember the name of someone we’ve known for years? I try not to panic at this, eventually it will come to me.
All these limitations are the reality of our lives and they are hard to accept. We can make our own lives miserable and the lives of those who love us difficult if we refuse to admit it is our time to stretch out our hands and let those who love us bind them knowing they will do the best for us.
That time came for Peter when his hands were bound and he was led away to be crucified as was the Christ he denied, the Christ who forgave him.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass together may we pray for ourselves and for each other that when our time comes we willing stretch out our hands into the hands of the man who stilled the water, the Christ from Galilee knowing in our hearts we are in good.