The Third Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 5:27-32,40-41 + Revelation 5:11-14 + John 21:1-19
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
As the Church journeys through the Easter Season, we continually celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection. But it’s important to keep in mind that the point of this joy is the feast celebrated at Easter’s end: the holy feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, celebrated on the fiftieth and final day of the season of Easter, is a celebration of God the Holy Spirit flooding the hearts, minds, and souls of those who wish to live as members of the Body of Christ.
So Pentecost is the end of Eastertide in two senses. Pentecost is the final day of the Season of Easter. But more importantly, Pentecost is the end of Easter in the sense of being the goal of Easter.
Each Sunday of Easter, in its own unique way, helps us prepare for Pentecost. Jesus’ appearances in His Risen Body alert us more and more to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, of which God calls us to be full members.
Last Sunday, we heard that on the very evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles—except Thomas—and breathed upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that they might be able to forgive the sins of fellow human beings. Just days earlier Jesus had died on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. Yet on the evening of the Resurrection, by giving to the apostles what St. John in the Book of Revelation calls “the keys of death and the nether world”, Jesus gave the apostles the power to free men and women from the prison of sin.
Today we hear how Christ extended the gift of reconciliation to one of the apostles in a particular way. Like all the gifts that God gives, this gift of reconciliation was given to Saint Peter so that he would be a better disciple of Christ Jesus in his own particular manner. After commanding St. Peter in regard to the miraculous catch of fish—itself a symbol of the apostles’ ministry to be “fishers of men”—Our Risen Lord asks Peter a very simple question. This questions aims at reconciliation.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The fact that Jesus addresses this question to “Simon, son of John” instead of to “Peter” is significant. St. John the Evangelist, before the answer to Jesus’ question is given, refers to this man as “Simon Peter”; after the answer is given, the evangelist refers to him simply as “Peter”. We know that the name Peter means “rock”, and that it is upon this rock that Jesus built His Church. Nonetheless, until Peter repented publicly three times, in order to make up for his three-fold public denial of Jesus, Peter could not serve as Jesus wanted.
Only by assuring Jesus that he loved Him could he accept the name “Peter”. But notice also that in Jesus accepting Peter’s repentance, He also gives Peter a new command. Jesus commands him not only to be faithful to proclaiming His Name, as he had failed to do after the Last Supper. Jesus’ new command for Peter was something greater: “Feed my sheep.” Peter was not only to be “rock-solid”, so to speak, in preaching the Gospel. Peter was to be the Rock at the very heart of the Church, upon which the entire Church would rest. Just as the Israelites in the desert struck the Rock and found a source of living water, so the Church finds in the Rock of Peter the assurance that the words the Church teaches are the words of Jesus Himself.
This reconciliation between Jesus and Peter had to take place before Jesus could ascend to Heaven. Without the Rock of Peter to rely upon, the Church could not begin its mission at Pentecost.
Why is this office of Peter—the office of the pope—so important? Many Christians find the office of Peter a stumbling block to Christian unity, but in fact it is an assurance of the Church’s unity, because at the heart of this office is love. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. Only this love can unite the Church here on earth. This love is the key to living out the Gospel, and is in fact the key to the kingdom of Heaven.