Third Sunday of Easter 2013
Our society today has so much in common with the society of ancient Greece. Yes, it is true that we get much of our democratic ideas, rule of law, from the Greeks of old, 3 to 4 hundred years before Jesus. But we, as a society, still have much more than just the democratic rule of law in common with the ancients. They worshiped many gods, we, in turn, worship many gods too, just look at the sporting events held on any given day, especially on Sunday. Look at the importance we put on material goods, the almighty dollar….are these not gods? Do they not take up the majority of our time and energy in the pursuit of them? Do we not love them?
The Athenians had rule of law, we also, have rule of law. Unfortunately, we are headed back toward ancient Greece in other ways. The majority would rule and everybody was happy unless the minority started making waves. The philosopher Socrates was one of these minority trouble makers. His ideology was one not of self-rule, but of being guided by a loving and wise shepherd. He was put on trial for impiety toward the gods, but it was really because he was upsetting the apple cart. Standing in front of tyranny, Socrates states that it would be better to obey the gods than some earthly court.
Peter recalls the words of Socrates when he replies to the Sanhedrin that they must obey God rather than men. Peter and the Apostles were the minority that was upsetting the apple cart. The Apostles were ordered again to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. They left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.
Perhaps the Sanhedrin were upset because these followers of the Way were starting to gain more followers. Perhaps they felt that the Apostles truly were teaching false doctrine. Perhaps they felt that the Apostles would incite the people to turn against them pointing the finger to them as the ones who crucified the Christ. Or perhaps they were worried that the outgoing number of people would affect the bottom line of monies coming into the synagogue. Whatever the reason, Peter and the rest stood firm on their convictions, on what they knew was right and moral, regardless of what the “majority” was saying.
Today, we are inundated with moral relativism. We are told that the Church is out of touch, that the Church doesn’t know how to relate to the people of today, that the Church is outdated. The Church is not outdated, the Church is timeless. Her teachings go beyond what the people of this age say, because she is being guided by God’s Holy Spirit, which is timeless himself. God’s truths are timeless and unchangeable.
We need to learn what our Church teaches, we need to stand up to those who say that the Church out of touch and outdated. We need to live the faith that we profess, we need to live the love of Christ for a world that is lost and dying. How do we do this? The answer lies within the Gospel reading.
Jesus, in his third appearance to the disciples after the Resurrection, meets them in an everyday experience. Just as Jesus meets us in everyday experiences. Peter went back to his former vocation of being a fisherman, but as to why they did, we can’t really say. Some think it was because they lost their faith, they were afraid of the Sanhedrin and didn't want to make waves.
I think it was because Jesus told them to wait for him in Galilee, and while they were waiting, they had to have a way to eat, a way to support themselves. So they went fishing. Surprise of surprises, they make a large catch of fish when they listen to and obey the master fisherman.
Finally, Jesus exchange with Peter is a confirmation of Peter’s place in the economy of the Kingdom. Peter affirms his love three times, in reconciliation for his denial earlier. When Peter declares his love, Jesus commissions him to assume the role of shepherd of the flock. Since he is a man who failed, and was shown compassion and was restored, he is now a shepherd who can show compassion to others who have also failed.
While today’s gospel singles out Peter as a leader within the community, in no way does this mean that the care of the flock is the sole responsibility of its authorized leaders. It is the responsibility of all the baptized. Parents, you are the leaders of your home, the domestic church. It is your witness that feeds the flock. Students, you are the leaders in the school, you are the church militant! It is your witness that feeds the flock. We are all called to feed and tend the flock of God. Some are given the added responsibility of overseeing this ministry, these are our bishops, pastors, deacons and all pastoral ministers.
In the world in which we live, a world of extensive dehumanizing poverty, of terrifying and continual violence, of the exploitation and criminal abuse of the defenseless, the Church is rightfully judged by the character and extent of the care it provides for the most vulnerable. Those called to this service, as Peter was called, should respond out of the same kind of humble love Peter did, for they should know it is only the saving power of God that enables them to persevere. Without it, they too might deny Christ.
We are in a situation in the Church today that bears much resemblance to this earlier period. Our religious convictions seem to be floundering. The rapid pace of social change has caused many to relinquish any sense of religious purpose. The number of people NOT raised within a religious culture has increased sharply. There is more need for effective preaching and witness to the resurrection power of Jesus than ever before. We must take seriously our baptismal responsibilities, just as the early Christians did.
Listen to the witness of the last three Popes:
John Paul II: This is what the Church believes.
Benedict XVI: This is why the Church believes it.
Francis: This is how we live it.
We can learn all we need to learn about the faith, and so we should, but once we learn, we HAVE to live it. Like Pope Francis’ namesake said 800 years ago, Preach the Gospel always….use words when necessary.