by Rev. Fr. George T, Ireland
A devotional reflection on the Gospel passage St. John 21:15-19 for the third Sunday after Easter.
When Jesus selected the twelve disciples, He had a special intention. He wanted them invariably to be with him always. The gospel of St. Mark 3:14 ff reads thus: “And He went up on the mountain and called to Him that He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have power to heal the sicknesses and to cast out demons”. That means, those Disciples of Christ were supposed to play a dual role.
1. To be with Him always. (To go escort (as entourage) and to share his life in his company.)
2. To be sent out with authority for and on his behalf (as Apostles) to preach, to heal and to cast out demons.
In the last great commissioning, we see Christ re-affirming this fact. Jesus asks his disciples to go out to the four corners of the world to reach out to the unknowns. (Mat 28:16-20) and they have been given the task and authority to baptize and to make everyone His disciples. (Mathew 28: 18-20). This was, in brief, their vocation.
Jesus wanted them to relinquish their valuables for the sake of Him and he expected them to be with their ‘Guru’ not only in times of comforts but even in times of trials and ordeals. Jesus wanted their relationship with him go deeper and stronger to the core. Jesus envisaged ‘Love’ as the connecting link for the maintenance of this net work of their relationship and as the sign of their discipleship. (John 13:31-34). To a certain extent, the twelve disciples proved themselves worthy for their calling. But in some weak moments, they are seen wavering and getting detached from Christ.
Like all other disciples, Simon, meaning ‘reed that wobbles in the wind’, too was called to follow Him. Though he was, as his name implied, a wavering and all impulsive by nature. He is seen following Jesus leaving aside his net, the most important thing in his life which was essential for his livelihood (Mat 4:18-20). In that sense he was a true disciple. But his faith was not that much deep rooted. It is clear from the pages of Bible. (Mathew 14:25-32 and 16:21-28).
In the biblical passage set for reading on the third Sunday after Easter, we see the resurrected Christ who wants to see his disciple Simon. And when they met each other, Jesus asked Simon whether he loved Him or not. The same question had been repeated thrice for He wanted to see whether Simon loved Him. The first two times, when the Greek word ‘Agape’ (volitional, self sacrificial love) is used, the third time Jesus uses the word ‘Phileo’ (signifying affection, affinity or brotherly love) to confirm whether he loved Him even as a friend. The responsibility of tending His sheepfold was given to Peter, not as an exclusive authority, but as part of a collective responsibility. It was not because of any preference given to him as the leader of the other disciples. Instead, it is clear that Simon had lost his discipleship following his denial of his Lord and master Jesus. Jesus wanted to restore and to reinstate the lost position of Simon as one of the twelve disciples. What Jesus did was re-inducting Simon to the college of the apostles.
This episode has a flash back which is depicted in Mathew 16: 13-20. In the conversation that is going on between Jesus and Simon, Simon is seen making a statement thrice that Jesus was the ‘Son of God’. And that too was not one of an inner search for God but that one of God’s revelation. Over against the superficial declaration of Simon Peter pointing to the divinity of Christ, Jesus warned him of his trio- denial (Luke 22:54-64). And we see this happening in the very cold night when Jesus was being taken for trial. Tradition holds that Simon Peter, after having denied his master Jesus, began wailing of his guilty consciousness (Mathew 26:75). His ‘repentance’ made Christ, the compassionate, to forgive him of his iniquity and lifting the indictment on him. After this incident, Simon Peter is seen as firm as a ‘rock’ in his faith towards Jesus and powerful in his mission. (Acts of the Apostles 2:14-6:7).
In Mark 1:14 we see that Jesus begins his public ministry with the message “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” Good news is nothing but ‘Christ Jesus’ who was born for you and me in the city of David (Luke 2:10-11). From this, it is clear that for entry into the kingdom of God, two things are essential. One is ‘Repentance’ and the other one is ‘Faith (Trust) in God’. Further, we see in Mathew 16:18 that Jesus offering Peter the ‘Keys of Heaven’ (Mat 16:19). Key is the device that is used for the entry to an enclosed place or in other words, something that provides someone access into a particular area. Heaven was a place enclosed until the coming of Christ incarnate. But by the arrival of Christ, it has been open. Christ was, in fact, offering Peter the entry pass into heaven while he said “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. The privilege of entering heaven is reserved for all who repent and believe (trust) in Jesus Christ. (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:9).
Let us think for a while and ask ourselves. Are we true Disciples of Christ like the twelve who followed the Lord of everything leaving aside everything? Do we have full trust in God even when we face adversaries? Are we able to make an honest repentance while we make our holy confessions? Are we zealous in our Christian mission? Is it the very same love (agape) that the twelve had, reflects in our present church activities? Are we able to be in the company of God throughout our life? Are we able to reach out to the marginalized as a sacrament of God’s presence to bring life into their lives? Are we able to fetch healing to the suffering people around us? Are we still eligible for the status of His discipleship? Could we confirm ourselves of the entry into the Kingdom of Heaven?
What is the lesson that we must learn from this passage or what message does this event convey? It is to be borne in mind always that one’s salvation is not confined to a particular point of time but has a progression. Everyone should strive to grow up to the perfection of God the heavenly Father (Mathew 5:48) and to the fullness of Christ, the head (Ephesians 4:15). Even a spiritual stalwart is prone to fall. One who endures to the end will be saved. (Mathew 10:22). St. Paul warns us of this fact when he is saying: “Those who think they are standing firm had better be careful that they do not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Therefore, one should always be aware of one’s stance as a Christian. One’s spiritual arrogance will no doubt jeopardize one’s spiritual life.
In the second portion of the passage, Jesus teaches Simon Peter of the necessity of yielding to the will of God for being a disciple of Christ (Verse 18). It points to the prioritizing of our aspirations in accordance with the will of God. For a Christian, the parameters are set not by oneself but by God. One who is not prepared to lead a dedicated and committed life can never be a true Christian.
Let me conclude this humble thought with the words of St. Paul, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2). Let this Pauline words reign over us. God bless us all.
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