God is Love...

Catechetical Center of Bangkok

3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 5:27–32, 40–41; Revelation 5:11–14; John 21:1–19

Hanoi Hilton
The theme of the shepherd unifies Scripture and reveals God’s loving concern for us.

There was a famous prisoner-of-war camp in North Vietnam. Its Vietnamese name was Hoa Loa. But the American soldiers called it the Hanoi Hilton.

On Christmas Eve of 1971, the camp commander passed out
a few Bibles to the prisoners as a kind of Christmas present.
He told them, however, that the Bibles would be collected on Christmas night.

The American soldiers decided to use the time wisely.
They made pens out of wire. They made ink out of brick
dust and water, and they used toilet tissue as writing paper. On it they copied key passages from the Bible to use in their worship services.

Among the passages they copied was the parable of the lost sheep, in which Jesus compares his Father to a shepherd who seeks out a lost sheep.

The prisoners pictured themselves as that lost sheep. The prisoners also copied Psalm 23, in which the psalmist says
of God:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord,
for you are with me.”
The prisoners pictured themselves as sheep walking through deep darkness. But they weren’t afraid because they knew
that God was with them.

The soldiers couldn’t have found a better theme to identify with than the theme of the shepherd and his sheep. It’s one of the most popular in all Scripture.

From earliest times, Jews pictured God as their shepherd.
We just saw this in Psalm 23, where the psalmist says,
“The LORD is my shepherd.’’

In time, the title shepherd was also given to the religious leaders of Israel, for they were God’s representatives on earth.

Unfortunately, many of these representatives did not
always prove worthy of their calling. Shaking his finger
at the unworthy shepherds, the prophet Ezekiel says:

You are doomed, you shepherds of Israel! You take care of yourselves, but never tend the sheep.

You have not taken care of the weak ones, healed the ones that are sick, brought back the ones that wandered off, or looked for the ones that were lost.

You pushed the sick ones aside and butted them away from the flock. But I will rescue my sheep and not let them be mistreated any more. I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd,and he will take care of them. Ezekiel 34:2–4, 21–23

It’s against this background that we must read Jesus’ beautiful words in John’s Gospel:
“I am the good shepherd . . .I know my sheep and they know me.
And I am willing to die for them.

“There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheep pen.I must bring them, too;they will listen to my voice,
and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” John 10:14–16

In other words, Jesus says that he is the shepherd promised by God through the Old Testament prophets.

This brings us to today’s gospel, where Jesus commissions Peter to succeed him as shepherd of the flock. The great moment occurs when Jesus says to Peter:

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?”“Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.”

A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”

A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.”

By his threefold command, “Feed my sheep,’’ Jesus commissions Peter to succeed him as the shepherd of
the flock. He appoints Peter to be the leader of the others.

Finally, years later, there came another great moment in the development of the shepherd theme in the Bible. Peter addresses the heads, or bishops, of the local churches by the title shepherd. He delegates to them a portion of his awesome role as shepherd. He says to them:

“Be shepherds of the flock that God gave you. . . . Do your work . . . from a real desire to serve.” 1 Peter 5:2

And that brings us to the present day. We give the name pastor to the priest in charge of our parish. The word pastor
 is the Latin word for shepherd.

Pastors are shepherds, sharing in the authority of Peter
and the bishops, who received their commission from Jesus,
who received his commission from the Father.

It is the pastor’s awesome role, along with other leaders in the Church, to be a living representative of the Father among us.

Thus, the shepherd theme in today’s gospel does three things.

First, it helps us appreciate how beautifully the Old  Testament and the New Testament fit together.

Second, it shows how the Father shared his role as shepherd with Jesus, who shared it with Peter, who shared it with lesser church leaders.

Third, it reminds us of the awesome role that all church leaders have. They are the Father’s representatives among us.

Let’s pray for church leaders:

Lord, we ask you to bless the leaders of your Church in a special way.

Help us see through their failures to what they really are:
living signs of your presence among us.

Above all, help us work with them and through them for the spread of your kingdom throughout the world.
Series II
3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 5:27–32, 40–41; Revelation 5:11–14; John 21:1–19\

Without Jesus we can do nothing
If we’ve been working with little or no success, maybe it’s because we’ve been working alone, without Jesus.

There’s a story about a preacher who liked to use gimmicks
to divide his sermon into parts.

For example, he liked to preach on the story of David
and Goliath, because this enabled him to use the five stones that David picked up to slay Goliath as a gimmick to divide his sermon into five parts. And he liked to preach on Jesus’ parable of the three servants who were given money to
invest while their master went on a long journey, because
this enabled him to use the three servants as a gimmick to divide his sermon into three parts.

One Sunday the preacher frightened the wits out of his congregation when he announced that he was going to
preach on today’s gospel: Peter’s catch of 153 fish.

Well, I’m not going to divide my homily into 153 parts,
but I’d like to divide it into four brief parts.

Ancient Jewish rabbis used to teach that every story in Scripture contained four meanings: a literal meaning, a symbolic meaning, an intended meaning, and a personal meaning. So there are four parts of today’s gospel story:
its literal meaning, its symbolic meaning, its intended
meaning, and its personal meaning.
First, the literal meaning is simply what the gospel story says. Sometimes it’s not always clear what a particular story is saying. In today’s gospel, however, this isn’t the case.
It’s perfectly clear what the story is saying.

In fact, the story is one of the best-known narratives of the New Testament.

This brings us to the second meaning: the symbolic meaning.

The chief symbolism seems to center around Jesus’ question to Peter, which Jesus repeats three times: “Simon son of John, do you love me?’’ What symbolism is contained in this threefold question that Peter seemed to find so embarrassing?

Many believe the repetition is related to Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest.

They see Peter’s threefold affirmation of love, “Lord, you know that I love you,’’ as erasing his threefold denial of Jesus.
In other words, it allows Peter to make amends for his past and to redeem himself.

This brings us to the third meaning: the intended meaning.
Why did John relate this incident? What did he intend to communicate to us through it?

The Church points to Jesus’ threefold response to Peter,
“Feed my sheep,’’ as evidence that Jesus gave Peter
the authority and responsibility to succeed him as chief shepherd of the flock.

In other words, Jesus’ threefold response to Peter reaffirmed the decision Jesus had made earlier concerning Peter, when he said, “I tell you, Peter: . . . on this rock foundation I will build my church. . . . I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19

Jesus could have reversed that decision, saying to Peter,
“Simon, I had great leadership plans for you, but you denied me three times. You failed under pressure. So I’m taking away your leadership role and giving it to someone else.’’

But Jesus didn’t do that. Rather, he reaffirmed his decision
to make Peter the chief shepherd of his flock.

This brings us to the final meaning: the personal meaning.
This is the meaning that the gospel story might hold for the attentive reader. In other words, God can use a Scripture passage or story to speak to us in a personal way.

For example, take the episode in today’s story, where Peter says that he fished all night but caught nothing. Jesus then tells Peter to try again. Peter does, and the result is amazing.
He and his helpers catch so many fish that they need another boat to help them. What personal meaning might we draw from this episode? Consider a story.

Novelist A. J. Cronin says that he nearly gave up his writing career before he ever got started.
Halfway through his first book, Hatter’s Castle, which was eventually translated into 19 languages, Cronin says that he threw down his pen and tossed his half-finished manuscript
into the ash can.

Then he went outside into the rain and went for a long walk
down a lonely rural road in Scotland. He hadn’t walked far
when he came upon an old farmer ditching a field.

The sight of that old farmer, working all alone in the rain,
inspired Cronin to retrieve his manuscript from the ash can and try again.

Years later, when Cronin became famous, he credited his career to the farmer who inspired him to try again after he had given up the first time around.

Iwould like to think that Jesus spoke to novelist A. J. Cronin
through that old farmer, working in the field, all alone, in the rain.

I would like to think that Jesus said to Cronin, through that farmer, something similar to what he said to Peter: “Recast your nets, Peter, and try again.’’ (paraphrased)

I would like to think that by his unsuccessful first attempt
Cronin learned what Peter learned. He failed the first time
because he had been working alone, without the help of Jesus.

The personal meaning that we might draw from today’s gospel story comes down to this:

If, like Peter, we’ve been working all night and have caught nothing, or if, like A. J. Cronin, we’ve been working hard on something with little or no success, maybe it’s because we’ve been working alone, without Jesus.

Maybe the reason for our failure is that we’ve been trying to do it all by ourselves.

Maybe the reason for our failure is that we’ve forgotten
what Jesus said to his followers a few chapters earlier in John’s Gospel:

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5
Series III
3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 5:27–32, 40b–41; Revelation 5:11–14; John 21:1–19

Love works miracles in people’s lives.

After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” John 21:15

James Baldwin authored two books: Nobody Knows
My Name and The Fire Next Time. The popularity of these books made him one of the literary lights of the civil rights movement.

In a television documentary Baldwin recalled an event in his life that greatly influenced his decision to become a writer.
He said:

My father said I was the ugliest child he had ever seen. And because he kept repeating it, I believed him and resigned myself to the fact that nobody would ever love me.
Then one day it occurred to Baldwin that a reader doesn’t necessarily care what an author looks like. That thought greatly influenced his decision to become a writer. He writes:

For me, writing was an act of love. It was not an attempt
to get the world’s attention, but an attempt to be loved.
From a TV narrative based on his childhood,
WNEW TV, New York City (June 1, 1964)
That brings us to an undisputed truth. Every human
heart was created with a hole in it a hole that only love
can completely fill.

This is especially true of young people who give the impression that they need no one.

Ateacher who had nearly 30 years’ experience teaching young people wrote:

Early on in my teaching career someone gave me a motivational piece called “Masks.”

It was cut out with no indication of its author or what its source was. Written from the viewpoint of a young person to an adult, it reads:

“Don’t be fooled by me. I wear a thousand masks masks that I am afraid to take off. . . . For God’s sake, don’t be fooled.

“I give the impression that I am secure . . . that confidence is my name and coolness my game . . . and that I need no one. Please don’t believe me!

“My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my
 mask.Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear,
 in aloneness. . . .

“That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind . . .
to shield me from the glance that knows.

“But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only salvation.
That is, if it is followed by acceptance, if it is followed by love.

“But I don’t tell you this. I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love. I’m afraid you’ll think less
of me, that you’ll laugh at me. So I play my game. . . .

“I dislike the superficial game I’m playing. . . . I’d like to be really genuine. . . .

But you’ve got to help me. . . . Each time you’re kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart grows wings.

“I want you to know that. I want you to know how important you are to me how you can be the creator of the person that is me, if you choose. Please choose. . . .

“It’ll not be easy for you. The nearer you approach, the blinder I might strike back. . . . I fight against the very thing I cry out for.

“But I am told that love is stronger than the strongest walls,
and in this lies my hope my only hope!” Source and author unknown

That moving passage should be read again and again by every parent, grandparent, teacher, and caregiver.

It highlights an important guideline for working with young people especially problem young people.

We might express the guideline this way:

No one needs love more than someone who doesn’t seem to deserve it.
Jesus stressed this same point, saying to his disciples:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . . .

“If you love only the people who love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them!

“And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners do that!”
 Luke 6:27, 32–33
This teaching of Jesus touches on a point that we must never lose sight of.

If we wait around until a person becomes lovable before we love them, we will wait around the rest of  our lives. It is precisely in the process of loving them that they become lovable.
That brings us to the question Jesus puts to Peter in today’s Gospel: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Three times Jesus puts the same question to Peter. Three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Three time Jesus says, in effect, “Peter, reach out in love to others as I am reaching out in love to you.” Peter’s triple affirmation of love erases his triple denial of Jesus. Mark 14:72
And Jesus’ triple response to Peter commissions Peter to succeed him as leader of the Church on earth.

Jesus commissions Peter to reach out in love to others especially those who seem least deserving of it, just as
his triple denial of the Master made him least deserving
of his Master’s love.
And now it’s Peter’s turn to say to us what Jesus said to him both by word and by example:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . . .

“If you love only the people who love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them!

“And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners do that!”
 Luke 6:27, 32–33