Discipleship is manifested in love

  • April 26, 2007
Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 22 (Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41/Rv 5:11-14/Jn 21:1-19)

The man who denied Jesus three times is now courting imprisonment and death by his unrelenting proclamation of the Good News. Peter is unfazed by threats and bullying. One’s life can be very different after having encountered the Spirit of God.
The overcoming of fear and the ability to go beyond one’s normal tendencies and limitations are just some of the signs of the spirit. The attempt of the power structures to crush the movement and quench the spirit will not prevail. In the verses omitted in the reading, Gamaliel — a member of the Sanhedrin — has good advice for every age. “Wait and see,” he counsels. Don’t be too quick and too harsh in your words and actions. You just might find yourself jousting with the God you claim to worship.

In human terms, praise is usually tinged with a bit (sometimes a lot!) of self-seeking. We can seek praise to inflate our ego or sense of self-worth, or praise others excessively to ingratiate ourselves with them. In the vision of Revelation, praise plays an entirely different role. All of the heavenly beings and creatures gather around the throne are overwhelmed by the divine presence. But rather than being fearful, they are filled with a joyful urge to praise both God and the Lamb. The focus is not on them, but on the One who is worthy. To wish that the one seated on the throne and the Lamb receive all glory, honour, praise and power is to put human claims to such things in their proper perspective. Uninhibited and joyful praise of God for God’s own sake and not for favours received or hoped for could lift both individuals and the church out of the self. Whatever we think, say and do must be done with the focus where it belongs: on God. What would the Gloria would be like if it were proclaimed from the heart and not merely recited at the appropriate place in the liturgy?

This chapter from John, an epilogue to the main body of the Gospel, has always been somewhat of a mystery. It seems a bit anticlimactic after the giving of the spirit and the mission in the upper room. The disciples appear to have merely drifted back to their former lives — they are out fishing and are strangely unaffected by what has taken place. In fact, they have a great deal of difficulty even recognizing Jesus, despite having received the spirit. And there have been failures along the way: many deserted Jesus because of His teachings, and almost all of the apostles denied Him and ran in His hour of trial.

The story has lessons to teach: hope, forgiveness and discipleship. Peter, who has failed big time in his fidelity to Jesus, is rehabilitated in the eyes of the community, but more importantly in his own eyes.

The awareness of failure and humiliation can be a painful and sometimes crushing burden to bear, and Peter must have felt it deeply. There is always hope and the chance of a new life, for God never gives up on us. Three times — corresponding to Peter’s three denials — Jesus puts the question to him: Do you love me more than the others? Three times he responds affirmatively, but the last time it was with bewilderment and exasperation. Why are you asking me again? The other two times Jesus had commanded him to tend and feed the sheep.

Discipleship is manifested first and foremost in love and concern for others. Talk means very little unless it is backed up with deeds, and this lesson is directed at all of them, for they need healing as much as Peter. But after the third response, Jesus raises the bar. Peter has been given a place of honour and has claimed to love Jesus more than the others. This will mean not being the master of his own life. He will be taken where he would rather not go, and his life will end in martyrdom.

In John’s Gospel, the call to discipleship is always radical and uncompromising, even fearfully so, and more will be asked from those to whom more has been given. But God’s expectations are different for each person, and God will give us the grace, courage and strength to do whatever God asks.