Sunday, April 10, 2016

Do You?

   Third Sunday of Easter   C 

On the shores of the Sea of Galilee
(which St. John alternatively calls the Sea of Tiberius),
there is a small stone church marking the spot
where today’s gospel story is thought to have unfolded.
It’s called the Church of the Primacy of Peter.
Inside, in the middle of the floor, is a natural rock formation
that’s identified as the mensa Christi—the “table of Christ”—
believed to be where the risen Jesus served his apostles
a breakfast of bread and roasted fish.
In earlier times, the site was known as the Place of the Coals
in honor of Jesus’ beachside barbecue.
Our own Deacon Bryan Bashaw and his wife, Johnna,
are on pilgrimage in the Holy Land right now
and were visiting this church just the other day.

Outside that church,
against the dramatic background of the sea,
stands a statue depicting the exchange between Jesus and Peter:
Jesus is standing, with a shepherd’s staff in his hand
while Peter kneels before him,
receiving the mandate to tend and feed the Lord’s sheep.

But as beautiful as this sculpture is,
there’s something about it that seems a bit backwards to me.

Think about it: What did Jesus ask Peter?
“Do you love me?”
When else do we hear that question asked?
[Get down on one knee before a woman from the congregation]
And who, in those cases, usually gets down on one knee:
the one asking the question, or the one answering it?

It might sound strange to say so,
but Jesus is proposing to Simon Peter—
no, not marriage…
…but he is seeking a particular relationship with him,
and an intimate one, at that.
“Simon, can I be your #1?  Will you be mine?”
And recall the way Jesus has defined love:
first, in word—“There is no greater love than this:
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13);
and then, in deed—“accepting death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

This question, this proposal,
isn’t for a lone fisherman.
That chapel on the seashore was built
to commemorate Peter as the first Pope.
Peter has “primacy”—the first place—as the leader
and visible point of unity for all who will follow Jesus.
Which implies that he’s never alone.
Peter stands for us all.
So what Jesus asks Peter,
he's also asking you and me on bended knee:
“Do you love me?  Do you love me more than these?”

Have you ever realized that before?
Because, just as it is with a marriage proposal,
this question demands an answer—
and if you say yes, it’s only the beginning:
the beginning of a lifelong commitment,
one that changes everything.

Just look at Simon Peter.
He who, standing by another charcoal fire
the night before Jesus died,
denied three times even knowing him,
is later found—after Easter, in the Acts of the Apostles—
rejoicing to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus’ name.
The same man who gathers his friends
and goes back to his nets and boat—
the career and lifestyle he knew before he ever met Jesus—
now leaves the old Simon behind for good
to become Peter, the Rock,
upon which the Church firmly stands.

But love—true love—does that, doesn’t it?
Falling in love, being in love,
knowing that you are loved and loved deeply—
it makes you do things you once thought were completely crazy;
it makes you do things you never thought you’d be capable of.
Love took a backwater fisherman
(and, apparently, not even a particularly good one, at that,)
and made him the chief shepherd
to lead and feed the flock of the Lamb of God.

We’re here again this Sunday 
at the mensa Christi—at the "table of Christ"
where the Lord himself is about to feed us—
not with a breakfast of grilled fish and toast,
but with his own Sacred Body and Precious Blood.
Although the menu be different,
at both meals the risen Christ is really and truly present,
and his question—his proposal—remains exactly the same:
“Do you love me?”

Jesus awaits your answer.

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