3rd Sunday of Easter - Tending Sheep

Jesus began his message with friendship, not only because it is powerful, but also because it is hopeful. It is the key, the only key, that can unlock the door to a worthwhile future in love. Jesus saw the truth of that 20 centuries ago. Instead of organizing institutions, he started a movement based on friendship, on love. That is the only solution to the problems of the human heart. People can live together under almost any conditions if they are friends, if they are in love. - Sr. Jayne Kelly

The resurrection appearances of Jesus are filled with surprises and mystifying details. His friends do not recognize Him. He appears through locked doors. He has broken out of a tomb, but carries the wounds of His dying. He speaks of peace and forgiveness. He promises the gift of His Spirit. He sends His disciples to change the world.

But, in today's account, we seem to be intruders on a very private, intimate scene of reconciliation. First, Jesus appears on the lakeshore and cooks a meal for His friends. We are left to imagine what their conversation was like. Then we overhear a very personal exchange between Peter and the Lord: "Simon, son of John, do you love me...?" Not once is the question asked, but three times.

Traditionally, scripture commentators tone down the intimacy of the exchange by suggesting that Jesus is giving Peter a chance to wipe out the bitter memory of his three-fold denial. But, it's impossible not to feel the emotion, the warmth, the gentleness of Jesus reaching out to heal the wounds of betrayal, and to allow His friend to cry out three times: "You know that I love you."

Jesus ends by saying to Peter one final time: "Follow me." And Peter knows that he will follow, feeding the sheep and the lambs, becoming an outstanding witness to the Good News of Salvation, tracing the footsteps of His friend through treachery and denunciation to crucifixion and death. But, most of all, Peter knew that it would be the Risen Lord who would sustain him, nourish him, and carry him through to his own resurrection.

In the Scriptures, every Resurrection appearance story is accompanied by a mandate, a call - a challenge to commitment. Through his death and resurrection, Christ is asking if we are willing to carry on in the "real world" of human beings, according to his teachings, his understanding of God, his love for people.

We are a wounded community and unfortunately the severest of wounds are those which are self-inflicted.  We are a fractured community, polarized by our hard-heartedness and stubborness.  These wounds demand attention not just to themselves but also to the much broader context of which they are a part. And that is our lingering failure to become what Jesus obviously had in mind: truly a people’s church - a community in which we each have been called to “tend to one other,” to be attentive, to pay attention and to "feed one another."

We have been chosen to witness to Christ's call to Life. Each of us has been sent to feed one other - to nourish and be nourished through community. We are each challenged to proclaim to the world that our God is a God who takes life with absolute seriousness, a God who enters fully into suffering and death and does not allow it the final victory. We do this just by living our daily lives as best we can by raising our children, by teaching, listening, comforting and encouraging others, guiding and defending life.

Today's Gospel is a wonderful lesson for each of us, struggling with our own very personal efforts to love Jesus and to be faithful to Him. We are so often slow to understand, eager to deny. We are strong on words and weak on action, afraid to pay the price of discipleship, but always hanging in, and always knowing that Jesus will walk with us, forgive us, heal us, and wait patiently for us to mature in our faith and our love. He is waiting for us to reach the point when we can say with Peter: "Lord, you know that I love You." 

And Jesus will smile back at us, and say, "Follow me." And we will follow. And the Risen Lord will be very much with us, to help us understand, to supply answers to our deepest questions and fears, and to reveal Himself again to us in the Breaking of the Bread.