In many ways, the story played out in today’s Gospel is the story of our own lives. It is the story of recognizing Jesus on the shoreline of our lives, and following Jesus wherever he may lead us.
Peter recently had a few bad days- accusing voices in the courtyard, three denials, a cock crowing, and the horrible death of the one whom he had promised to never deny or desert. And, then, the empty tomb and the awful uncertainty and questioning it had brought.
If you listen carefully to the Gospel, you can almost hear a long sigh of relief just before Peter says to the other disciples, “I am going fishing”. And fish he did - all night in the dark, his labor helping him to forget for a brief time the voices, the fears, and the doubts. Peter was going back to the ordinary, the familiar part of his life. And can we really blame him? We do the same. After all the passion of Holy Week, we too are exhausted; we want to turn back to the ordinary things of our lives; perhaps we too would like to go fishing. But then something unexpected happens. We see this figure on the shoreline of our lives and we are reminded of Jesus. Jesus is present in every moment of our lives, every day, but we often do not recognize him.
What inspired Peter to leap into the waters of the Sea of Tiberias and wade to shore? Love! Love yanked Peter out of the boat that morning. Love in the heart of Jesus calling out to this impetuous man, Simon Peter.
Our lives follow the same pattern as that of Peter in today’s Gospel. Our Lord calls to us from the shoreline of our lives and we, standing in our unique little boats, exhausted from laboring on our own in the darkness, respond. We take the plunge. Love calls to us in our daily lives. Love calls us from the workplace: Follow me in everything you do at work today; be patient with that irritating employee; reach out to someone who is alienated. And we take the plunge. Love calls to us in our family: call or write a letter to one of your siblings or your parents, tell your children you love them. And we take the plunge. Love calls out to us in our parish; try a new ministry, get to know a stranger. And we take the plunge.
But love is not content with superficial displays of enthusiasm. Love probes. Love tests those who take the plunge. And so our Lord cross-examines Peter –“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than fishing? Do you love me more than your former way of life?
Jesus draws Peter into this uncomfortable conversation that calls to mind his triple denial. Still, Peter doesn’t drop out of the conversation, nor does Jesus wash his hands of Peter and the rest and walk away. If we stay around, remember and confess our failures, Jesus is ready to forgive and send us out again. Peter has nothing to be puffed up about. Perhaps, in the light of our performance, neither do we. Jesus calls Peter back to his servant role, “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep.”
Then Jesus says: ”When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted”; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you were you do not want to go.”
Sometimes all of us must go places where we don’t want to go. On Easter Sunday, after the 11:00 mass, one of my children told me that my granddaughter, Julia Bissell, a seventh grader at St Francis, collapsed when she was getting ready for mass that morning and was taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital. Later in the day, we found out that Julia had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. It was bleeding and would have to be removed.
The next Thursday, Julia was in surgery for about ten hours as they removed the tumor. She was lifted up by the prayers of many in this community and by others we don’t even know. Many helped out by bringing dinners to the house. It was a blessing to experience the prayers and support of so many.
Julia is recovering. She came home from the hospital last Tuesday. Things are gradually returning to normal for her grateful parents and grandparents. We relied on the mercy and love of God in our time of helplessness and despair. And we felt the love of God through the love of our community. Thank you for your prayers and for your support.
When we are young we experience a kind of freedom that we think will never end. It seems life will never end. But as we gradually become adults, we relinquish some of that youthful freedom. Love compels us to do so, to go sometimes where we do not want to go. Life forces us to stretch out our hands and be led where we may not want to go.
Love makes it possible for us to go there. Love enables us to make the sacrifices that our adult life demands of each one of us.
The source of that love is standing always on the shore of our lives. In a few minutes, this altar will become that little charcoal fire by the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus will be standing there with food prepared- his body and blood. Take the plunge this morning. Take the plunge into the love God offers you and find the freedom that comes from following Christ.