HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, C (APRIL 10, 2016)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
One of the more memorable scenes in the New Testament is Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves him. While the most common interpretation of this threefold question-answer is that since Peter denied him three times, Jesus asks if he loves Peter three times to balance it all out.
However, just recently I found out that there might be something else at work here. In English, we have only one word for love, which is pretty remarkable considering the number of words in our language and the many different types of love. While the Greeks had a number of words for love, two are used in this conversation. The Greek word for a selfless, self-giving type of love which we associate with God for his people is the word agape. The love that two brothers might have for each other is from the same root that the city of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love has – philia.
So if we were to distinguish, the conversation between Jesus and Peter might have gone like this:
Peter, do you love me selflessly like God loves his people?
Peter answers: I love you like a brother. Jesus responds: Feed my lambs.
Again Jesus asks, Peter, do you love me selflessly like God loves his people?
Again Peter answers: I love you like a brother. Jesus responds: Be a shepherd to my sheep.
Lastly, Jesus asks: Peter, do you love me like a brother.
Peter answers, You know, I love you like a brother. Jesus replies: Feed my sheep.
This creates a little different scenario. At no time does Peter say he loves Jesus selflessly, but each time replies he loves him as a friend.
It seems to me that it is very difficult to have the kind of selfless love that Jesus was asking about. Pentecost had not yet happened, and the Spirit had not yet come to the Apostles. Peter was being honest about his love and his feelings. So perhaps that is why the third time, Jesus changes his question and simply verifies that Peter loves him as a friend. Peter was not yet ready for the deepest kind of love.
The simple commands that Jesus gives after each answer of Peter also change slightly. The first time it is lambs while the last two times he mentions sheep. I like to think of the lambs as the innocent children and the sheep as the adults. Peter is to feed or educate or preach to both the children and the adults, and he is also to tend to the needs of the adults with cures and healings, for example.
We see in the first reading today that all this is acted out after Pentecost. The Apostles have been doing what Jesus asked, teaching the adults in the Jewish community about Jesus and his message of love. Because of this, they are brought up before the Jewish high priest for their teachings, and for their accusations that the Judeans were responsible for Jesus’ death. Don’t forget, if they taught that Jesus was God, this would be very upsetting to the Jews who believed in one God, because it would seem they had belief in two. However, even at the trial, Peter and the Apostles continued to teach and explain what they were doing, who Jesus was, who the Holy Spirit was and how God was still one. The Apostles were ordered by the court not to speak any more of Jesus, but, of course, they continued to do so despite any consequences.
The consequence for Peter, according to John’s Gospel today indicate that Peter would also be led to the cross as was Jesus. “…you will stretch out your hands and someone will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do not wish to go.”
The continuing reading from Revelation continues to explain how Jesus was the Lamb and how he was also God for whom there would be “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Lastly, looking backward from the perspective of our knowing Jesus, our psalm today talks about how God has raised us up along with Jesus. The result of our work on earth might be weeping, but joy will come in the morning. After our deaths, we will be with the Lord. Our “mourning” will be turned into “dancing”. And so the message for those martyred Christians was, and still is, that our reward will be great despite what happens to us here.
Of course, we still have martyrs today. Think of the sisters recently killed in Yemen. In our own lives, this should constantly give us hope that no matter how bad things may get for us, there will come a dawn when we are vindicated. Life after the Fall is not easy. Being tempted is not easy. Staying on the right path is not easy. But if we can, we must think of that final reward where we become one with the Angels surrounding the throne, with the living creatures and the elders, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb…” It is then that our brotherly and sisterly love can truly become a selfless one, worthy of God.
May we always keep the goal in front of our eyes which is the Good News we need to live and spread to others. God bless.