The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Homily 3rd Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 5:27-32,40-41; Ps 30; Rv 5:11 -14; Jn 21: 1-19

I’m not a big moviegoer, but among my favorites is a 1983 film starring Robert Duvall called Tender Mercies. It tells a remarkable story, a story of loss and gain, a story of sinfulness, and pain, and repentance, and forgiveness, and love, and redemption. And blended into this very human mix is the grief that comes from the loss of a loved one and the faithful acceptance of the mercy of God. It's an acceptance that God ultimately brings everything – even those very hard things of life, even the evils that plague our world – that He brings all of this to good.

Tender Mercies tells a story of human happiness, a happiness that is never perfect simply because it is human. It reminds us that what God asks of us in this life doesn’t promise success in the way you and I measure it. The film has a “semi-happy” ending and subtly makes the point that the true happy ending God promises comes later, not here, and those Christians who think otherwise only fool themselves.

A lot of folks are here today, especially during this Easter season, expecting to encounter another happy ending; and their mistake is in thinking that Jesus did all the work on Calvary, leaving nothing for us to do. But the Gospel tells us otherwise, doesn’t it?

In today’s passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus appears to his disciples for the third time after His crucifixion on Good Friday. And if you’re here today just looking for a happy ending to this, you’re going to be disappointed.

You see, this sacred liturgy is no infomercial. It doesn’t promise instant gratification or success. And it certainly doesn’t promise a happy ending in this life. No, instead it challenges us by placing before us something far greater and gives us the opportunity to live out the story God has planned for us. And whether this story has a happy ending is largely up to you and me.

Now, some folks believe that following Jesus will make life all rosy and sweet. But Jesus tells us otherwise. There will be days when your life in Christ will leave you with more questions than answers, more pain and sorrow than happiness, more rejection than acceptance. Yes, Christ is the answer…but only when you and I ask the right questions.

Each of the Gospel encounters with the risen Jesus – from Mary Magdalene to St. Paul – is different and each is unsettling. Not once does the risen Christ give a crystal clear answer to the questions His disciples ask. Not once does the risen Christ promise a happy ending. Indeed, his message goes against what the world tells us to do.

The world says, “Follow our rules and everything will be wonderful.” But Jesus doesn’t say that. No, Jesus instead tells Peter, “Follow me.” Following the world’s rules may keep us out of trouble in the here and now, but it won’t get us to heaven. Jesus says, “Follow me!” – words that demand a radical change in way we live our lives, a radical change that can turn our lives upside down. When we follow Jesus, status and position and politics and wealth no longer matter, possessions become worthless, disabilities become strengths, all those past mistakes that litter our lives simply disappear.

Just look at Peter in today’s Gospel passage. Peter and his friends were at a loss. They neither knew nor understood what would be expected of them. They knew only that Jesus had risen! He was alive! What need could their risen Lord possibly have of them now, especially since they had all failed Him, abandoned Him in His time of greatest need? And so they had returned to what they knew best: the Sea of Galilee. They went fishing.

But now Jesus is calling out to them from the shore. The beloved disciple, the very one who had brought Peter to the high priest’s courtyard and overheard his denials, announces “It is the Lord!” Peter, filled with remorse and yet overcome by joy, sees his chance for restoration and leaps into the water and wades ashore…toward Jesus.

The last time we saw Peter he had denied Jesus three times, first at the door leading into the high priest’s courtyard, then twice more while warming himself by a charcoal fire. It’s no accident, then, that Peter now stands before another charcoal fire, a fire made by the Lord Himself on the shore of the sea.

And as Peter and his friends watch, the risen Jesus performs the most human of acts, he cooks a meal. He makes breakfast for these men, who are filled with anticipation, wondering what Jesus will say and do, wondering why He has come to them. But Jesus takes His time, doesn’t He?

Finally, He addresses Peter, asking him to confirm his love: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Three times Jesus asks this question, echoing Peter’s three denials, and three times Peter answers in love. Oh, it makes the Apostle uneasy, but Jesus makes His point and Peter comes to understand that he has been forgiven, also in love.

And Peter learns something else that day: that he has been commanded to care for and lead this tiny group of disciples, this as yet unformed Church, this flock of sheep that will soon be in need of a shepherd.

In time Peter comes to accept fully the role he has been assigned by God. We see stark evidence of this in our first reading from Acts in which he stands before the high court boldly declaring that the nascent Church must obey God rather than men.

And Peter, too, will come to know what following Jesus can lead to. Peter will carry this knowledge to Rome itself. As an old man, he stretched out his hands, was dressed and girded by the soldiers of Nero, and made to climb. Knowing his unworthiness to die as his Master died, and filled with humility, he will ask to be crucified with his feet upward. And there in Rome its first bishop dies with his face low to the ground, breathing in the dust of men. But In his heart he is still on the shore of Galilee, with the voice of Christ speaking to him, yesterday, today, and forever. "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." Feed my sheep!

You see, brothers and sisters, when like Peter we encounter the risen Christ up close and personal, all that matters is the love of God, and the willingness not to change, but to be changed.

…to allow the power of God to take our lives and transform them.

…the same power of God that transformed fishermen and tax collectors into apostles who willingly gave their lives to spread the Good News.

…the same power that turned a sinful Samaritan woman at the well into the first missionary.

…the same power of God that transformed the pain of sickness and disability into an opportunity to give witness.

And so, when you and I turn away from all that went before and follow the risen Christ, we shouldn’t be surprised when our lives becomes something very different from what we anticipated.

As Our Lord issues His call to each of us, He sends His Holy Spirit into this church to challenge you, to entice you, to dare you to take the risk of following Him on a path that is less than certain. God calls us from the comforts of our lives, from the fishing on the lake, and tells us bluntly: If you love me, you will stretch out your hands, and follow me, wherever I lead you.

Yes, it’s a path that always includes the cross. But it’s also a path filled with God’s tender mercies, and the only path that leads to eternal life, the true happiness for which you and I were created.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

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