This is an extraordinary encounter between Jesus and Peter.
Remember that just a few days earlier Peter had denied Jesus not just once, but three times. This denial gave the authorities the chance they needed to arrest Jesus. Once that happened there was no turning back: the people also then turned on Jesus “crucify him, crucify him” and Jesus was put to death. Peter wept when he realised what he had done.
After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter had to again face the one he had denied. It is not difficult to call to mind similar moments of shame and guilt in our own lives. But once Peter realises how pathetic he is, the focus can rightly turn to Jesus.
Jesus asks the question that focussed on the heart of every human relationship: “do you love me?”
Keep in mind here that all the evidence points to a fact that has revealed Peter cannot love Jesus. He has publically (and with tragic consequences) denied Jesus. Surely this action is the opposite of love!
But the loving presence of Jesus now shifts Peter’s focus from his own sin, to the love of his saviour.
Now, at last, after three years of Jesus ministry with miracles and teaching, Peter has arrived at the only solid ground for human life: humans alone are limited, weak, pathetic, vulnerable, fickle, unreliable, sinful. In fact humans alone are not human at all.
Human life as intended by the creator, can only be lived in relationship with God. The fact that we are incomplete without God is not a human limitation or weakness. It is a simple fact of divine design.
People today seem to know this. More than ever people seek to be ‘in relationship’ with one other. When one relationship fails, the pressure is on to find another. My friends might ‘pity’ me if I am seen to be ‘alone’.
But take a moment to think about this a bit more deeply. Someone once commented to me that ‘for many people, the loneliest place on earth is the marriage bed.’
If I look to another limited, weak, pathetic, vulnerable, fickle, unreliable sinful human being to meet my needs and to bring me happiness, I am heaping onto another person expectations that they are incapable of meeting.
However if I turn to God to meet all my needs, and seek to live above all else in relationship with God, then I come to a human relationship with love to give. Now, knowing the love of God for me, and aware of my heart-felt desire for God’s love, I become capable of human relationships with one other, and with many other friends.
A human person does not need a sexual relationship with one other in order to be a ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ human person. God has called many people to this life, but many others of us are called to live fully as single people.
Our little pilgrimage group is testimony to this reality. There are three married couples in our group, three Religious Sisters, a number of single people who are widowed, or who have suffered other forms of marriage or relationship break-down, and a priest. Our group therefore is pretty well representative of any parish community.
But individually and together our focus is on God. That is why we are on this pilgrimage. We seek to know God more fully, to love God more deeply, that we might know more completely the great love God has for each of us.
The fruit of this focus and perspective is the beauty of the community that God has created among us. Twenty one strangers have become friends who are delighted to spend these days living together in love of God and of one another.
This is what the above sculpture commemorates. This is the heart of the Christian life: Our sin (and shame, guilt, frailty, weakness, vulnerability etc) might be a problem for us. But it is not a problem for God!
This is why we call our faith GOOD NEWS.
While a person desire to overcome sin in our lives is usually well intentioned, it can become an unhealthy introspection and selfish project.
The message … (let me put this in direct contemporary language to help get the point across) … the message of Jesus to Peter, and to us is clearly “GET OVER YOURSELVES AND TURN TO ME!”
It would not have been possible for Peter to deal with his own struggle and shame, guilt and sin, after denying the Lord. All the therapy and healing sessions in the world could not have helped him enough. Even if he had found an exciting new lover, that would not have distracted him completely enough for him to be able to forget his pain.
But this lakeshore moment of extraordinary intimacy and love, floods Peter with love and life. This is also the astonishing moment when Jesus names Peter as the first pope.
Good News: Let’s get over ourselves and turn to God!
a couple of pictures from Mass on the shore of the lake – where in John 21 Jesus met with his disciples after the resurrection, cooked breakfast for them, and where Jesus asked Peter: “do you love me?”