3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C)
First Reading: Acts 5:27-32 Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14 Gospel Reading: John 21:1-19
“JESUS IS ALIVE AND HE IS ALWAYS WITH US!”
A European missionary, who labored on the east coast of Africa in medieval period, tells this story: One day a little black boy came to him and enquired, “Was Jesus a white man or a black man?” The missionary was going to say right away that Jesus was a white man, but he happened to guess what was in the black boy's mind. He knew that if he said Jesus was a white man, the boy would turn away with a sad look, thinking that everything that was good had been given to the white man. So the missionary thought for a moment. He remembered that Jesus lived, when on earth, in a very warm country, that the people were dark skinned, though not black. So he answered, “No, Jesus was not a white man, nor a black man, but sort of between the two. He was kind of brown.” “Oh, then he belongs to both of us, doesn't he?” exclaimed the little fellow with delight and went away.
Yes, Jesus belongs to all of us. He belongs to you and to me. Risen Jesus has a Jewish face, a Chinese face, an Indian face, a Filipino face, a Vietnamese face, a European face, an African face, an American face... and is present everywhere. “Jesus is alive and he is always with us.”
We are in Easter season and today is its 3rd Sunday. During this time, we continue to reflect upon the theme of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Second Reading of today, the author of the Book of Revelation describes a visionary, mystical experience in which countless creatures recognize Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Lamb of sacrifice, slain but risen and victorious, who receives blessing, and honor, and glory. This is set in the Heavenly Court where he is about to open the sealed scroll of revelation which he had just taken from God’s hand. This is an image beyond any measure and grasp of human imagination. First, the wonder and glory of the Divine Mystery, and secondly, the focus and worship of the entire universe, both spiritual and physical, are put forth here. It is an inspiring moment; but, once again, there is no pretense here. And by telling and describing the scene, today's reading wants us to wrestle with the mystery of God, especially as we contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s death and resurrection, so that filled with hope, we can begin to comprehend the largeness and fullness of the salvation offered us by Christ.
Back to Old Ways:
The Gospel Reading for this Sunday has something of the air of an appendix to the Gospel of St. John. The author highlights the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples at the Lake Tiberias, far away from Jerusalem, the capital, and in the home territory of the Galilean Apostles. The first two appearances were both in Jerusalem in the Upper Room, inside the closed doors – one being on the eve of the Resurrection and the other eight days later.
The Gospel narrative of today allows us to assume that the initial excitement about Jesus’ Resurrection has possibly calmed down a bit. The prevailing mood is not one of exultant joy. Instead, Simon Peter and a rather motley crew have left Jerusalem and gloomily gone all the way back to Galilee to resume their former way of life as fishermen. The previous three years had been an interesting and even exciting interlude in their lives, but now it seemed that it was all over and they themselves were in danger, and to keep busy out of fear and concern, they were back to what they had always been doing.
A Large Catch of Fish:
The disciples toiled the whole night, but to their disappointment they caught nothing. When it was dawn, the unrecognized figure of Risen Jesus appeared to them on the shore and directed their fishing. Following his command, the disciples caught an enormous amount of fish. Indeed, the superabundant catch was a 'sign' of the Risen Lord’s presence and power, which induced the 'beloved disciple' to cry out, “It is the Lord!” The 'beloved disciple' who saw the sign of the empty tomb on Easter morning is the same disciple who proclaimed his faith-recognition at dawn by the waters of Tiberias - “Jesus is alive and he is always with us.” In the symbolism of the Gospel, the boat and those in it represent the Church, the community in Christ.
We are told that Peter and his companions dragged the net to the shore - “full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.” Although we do not know the precise symbolic meaning of this number, it probably refers to the future missionary work of the apostles and its universal character.
Again, in spite of the heavy load of fish, the net was not torn, indicating the integral character of the Christian community. The net that encompasses the great quantity of fish points to the great variety and multitude of believers that will be brought into the faith, forming the One, Catholic and Universal Church of Christ. In their apostolic task as 'fishers of men and women,' the disciples need to solely rely on the Risen Lord for the efficacy of their mission. They can catch nothing without the assistance of the Lord. To act without Jesus is futile. Without his presence, casting the net into the sea of life is in vain.
Breakfast at the Lake-shore:
When the disciples arrive at the lake-shore, with the boat and the catch, they find breakfast prepared, an invitation to supply the fish, and a summons to breakfast. The group does not experience a rush of joy, however; instead we are told that “No one dared to ask ‘Who are you?’ knowing that it was the Lord.”
The breakfast at Tiberias is introduced by the episode of the miraculous catch of fish. The breakfast that Jesus prepares and serves to his disciples has a Eucharistic overtone. This 'sign' is an announcement of the Eucharist. There are all the elements of a Eucharist here. The Gospel writer narrates: “Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.” Here we see Jesus and the disciples are sharing what they have and eating in unity and community - such a simple scene which is a beautiful picture of the Church. The meal at the lake-shore also evokes the multiplication of the loaves and fish that Jesus accomplished at Lake Tiberias at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus fed the hungry crowd at the lake-shore with bread and fish, distributing as much as needed, and with twelve baskets of the bread fragments left over.
We know that it is the Lord who sets the table and invites us: He gives himself to be the food of those he gathers. Indeed, in the Eucharist, the Risen Lord continues to be present to us in the bread of the Word that we share and in the sacramental form of bread and wine. The glorified Jesus nourishes us with the bread of his living Word and with his own body and blood. The Easter event of the Risen Lord feeding his flock continues to be actualized in the 'here and now' of the Church through the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Passover - “Jesus is alive and he is always with us.”
Reconciliation and Commissioning:
The last part of today’s Gospel Reading presents to us a very special and touching scene between the Risen Jesus and Peter. Within one dialogue it combines two things. The mention of the “charcoal fire with fish on it” prepares us for this scene. Jesus used the 'charcoal fire' in his servant role as chef and as the giver of bread and fish. This 'charcoal fire' now serves as a witness for Peter’s profession of love, recalling the previous 'charcoal fire' at the hour of Jesus’ passion, next to which Peter had denied the Lord.
On the one hand, there is the reconciliation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus offers Peter a public opportunity to profess 'repentance through love,' surely a striking example of what it is that re-establishes our relationship with the Lord after sin. In the gentlest of ways, the Risen Lord asks him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Peter now is confronted with his threefold denial and he evasively responds, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Three times he is asked the same question just as three times he had denied. Now Peter is ‘upset.’ It deeply hurts him and he finally replies using the word he has been avoiding so far, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Peter’s threefold denial is balanced by his threefold profession of love. With this, he and the Lord are 'at-oned.'
On the other hand, however, the dialogue is more than a moment of reconciliation. It is also the passing of the baton. Jesus now hands over to Peter and to his companions the mission he himself had been given by the Father. "Feed my sheep." This is the responsibility of the Church and, as members of that Church, a responsibility that rests in varying degrees on every one of us. It is not just bishops, priests, religious who have this responsibility. It is also that of parents, teachers and even simply as brothers and sisters to each other.
Back to Jerusalem:
The disciples now had to go back to Jerusalem where they began to boldly and fearlessly proclaim what Jesus' life, words, actions, suffering, death and rising to life meant for them and for everyone else as well. The joy they had, the new meaning that had come into their lives because of their encounter with Jesus simply had to be shared with others. This we see recorded in the First Reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles.
However, it was a message that not everyone wanted to hear. In fact, they were arrested and interrogated by the Jewish Supreme Court or Sanhedrin and warned by civil and religious leaders to stop what they were doing. When the high priest demanded that Peter and company should listen to him and obey his orders, the apostles made it very clear that “they must obey God rather than men.” Not even when they were arrested, punished, imprisoned could they stop. On the contrary, the scars of their beatings became 'reasons for joy' and 'badges of pride' because they had shared in the humiliation and sufferings of Jesus their Lord.
Today, when we are reflecting upon the theme of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, let us bring ourselves in the living presence of the Risen Lord. Yes, through the sacraments especially, privileged encounters with the Risen Lord, you and I can experience the power of God in our own lives. So, we proclaim, “Jesus is alive and he is always with us.”
There is, however, a further step demanded of us. It is not enough for us, in our own lives, to be aware of God's presence among us. That realization calls each one of us believers to a response on our part to make that presence a felt reality, a genuine experience for those around us as well. The disciples could not simply stay in the upper room relishing the joy of knowing that Jesus, their Lord and friend, was risen. Their encounter on the lakeside made them realize that they could no longer go back to their boats and live for themselves.
We also notice that in the post-resurrection appearances the Risen Jesus at first is not recognized by his followers. The Risen Jesus does not look like the way he used to look. He now takes on many forms but, with faith, they are sure it is he. Jesus from now on has many faces – our neighbors, our friends and enemies. He is especially to be found and recognized in the poor, the exploited, the handicapped, the weak, the uneducated, the stranger, the foreigner... Christianity must never become a religion of insiders because it is precisely in the outsider that Jesus is to be found. Let us therefore joyfully proclaim, “JESUS IS ALIVE AND HE IS ALWAYS WITH US!” And this is the Good News of today.