Christ’s sheep regathered
Third Sunday of Easter. Fr Isidore Clarke preaches on three episodes of reconciliation.
In Christ’s Passion the shepherd had been struck and the sheep were scattered. Peter had disowned Jesus three times, while the other disciples had deserted him.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel we see Peter coping with the trauma of Christ’s death by trying to put the dreadful nightmare behind him. He wants to recover the familiar security of his former life as a fisherman. So he says, ‘I’m going fishing.’ And the other disciples join him.
But if they had written Jesus off as a tragic failure, he was not prepared to let go of them. Appearing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the risen Lord set about gathering the scattered sheep to himself again. This he does in the three episodes of this chapter.
First there’s the large catch of fish, which occurred at dawn, suggesting the beginning of a new era with Christ’s resurrection. And it was Jesus who took the initiative by guiding the fishermen to the large shoal. He made the first move towards reconciliation, even though he was the innocent one who had been abandoned by his followers.
The Gospel is precise about the size of the catch. St. Jerome argues that the number of fish represent all the nations of the known world, who are to be gathered into the community of believers. The fact that the net didn’t break suggests that there’s room for everyone in the Church.
Then we have the transition to the second episode. When the beloved disciple recognised Jesus, Peter impetuously jumped into the sea and swam towards Jesus, while the other disciples made their way to the shore by boat.
The second episode consists in the meal on the shore. Jesus has already lit a fire and started cooking. As he invites the disciples to join him in the fellowship of a meal he breaks downs the barriers of their desertion, which had separated them. This meal harks back to the feeding of the multitude, and to the Last Supper, and now looks forward to the community meal of the Mass, in which Jesus presides and nourishes us with his own crucified and risen body and blood.
And as he shares in this meal on the shore Jesus demonstrates that he has physically risen from the dead. He is not some kind of ghost.
Finally, the risen Lord helps Peter to undo the damage caused by his triple denial. Jesus leads him to reaffirm his love for him as being greater than anyone else’s. Jesus could also be asking Peter whether he was prepared to put Christ before anyone or anything else he loved.
Peter no longer boasts that he would die for Jesus even if others deserted him. Having disowned Jesus three times, he would no longer dare to be so rash. Instead, humbly he trust Jesus to know his love.
By healing the wounds of desertion and denial, Jesus re-gathered his scattered sheep — his disciples. He now appoints Peter as shepherd of his flock, who is to feed Christ’s sheep with the word and bread of life, which are Jesus himself.
The mission of the whole Church is to be fishers of men, drawing people of every nation to Christ, to gather together his scattered sheep and feed them. Our unity in Christ is celebrated in the Eucharist, which was foreshadowed in the meal on the shore.
The Church’s mission is rooted in humble repentance and love for Christ and his flock. Peter, who had disowned the crucified Christ, would prove his love and loyalty by sacrificing his life for his master. The beloved disciple would show his loving commitment in a different way, as he spent his long life in contemplating the wonder of the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He has handed on to us the fruits of his contemplation in a Gospel which is both the most sublime and down to earth.