Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19
St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:12-14,20; said ‘if Christ had not been raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. I think it was the theologian Tertullian who alluding to this also said, the confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live.
The first reading tells of the opposition the apostles encountered from the Jewish authorities. This did not come as a surprise, Jesus had predicted it in Lk 21:12-13. It became an opportunity to hear witness to him. Far from being demoralized, they were glad to have been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus. The Gospel makes the point that the resurrection is not a return to earthly life, Jesus had risen to a new life beyond death. He is the same Jesus yet not quite the same. He is not as he was, but he is still who he was. The miraculous catch of fish symbolizes the mission of the apostles to be fishers of men. The meal symbolizes the Eucharistic meal in which Jesus is present among them and feeds them. Peter who three times denied Jesus is now given the opportunity to profess his love and then is given the mandate to care for the Lord’s flock.
People who knew the tyrant Stalin very well had one observation about him. They said if one makes a mistake while serving him, it was like mishandling a detonator, it was the last mistake anyone could make. Sometimes, we too write people off because of one bad experience. Tell me, which of us here would like to be judged based on a single moment of our lives? I guess, not many of us would oblige to that. One would have expected Jesus to write Peter off after what happened on Holy Thursday. However, Jesus the reader of hearts knew that Peter’s case was as a result of weakness rather than malice.
Jesus kept no record of Peter’s wrongs. But he did ask for a favour, to feed the sheep and lamb of his flock. That is, to love and serve the sisters and brothers of his new community of believers. That was his penance if you like. Peter later wrote himself, love covers a multitude of sins [I Peter 4:8]. It is an amazing experience to be loved in one’s weakness, fragility and sinfulness. To be loved in one’s goodness is not a big deal, but to be loved in one’s weaknesses, failure and badness, that is tremendous.
Peter was a leader who was aware of his own weaknesses and who did not remain tied down by them. He came good. We must learn to forgive ourselves that momentary weakness and lapses. We should not judge ourselves or others harshly by momentary lapses. Peter stood shoulders high in the carrying out of his duties and was such a lovely leader. He did not shy away from the opposition, rather he turned every harsh encounter into an opportunity for the spread of the Good News.
In March 1983, the Russian Poet, Irina Ratushinkaya, was sentenced to seven years of hard labour and five years of internal exile. Her crime, writing poetry which the communist authorities did not approve of. In prison, she suffered beatings, forced feeding and solitary confinement in freezing conditions. She developed heart, liver and kidney trouble, as well as chronic bronchitis. Even in these conditions, she still wrote a few poems out of scraps of papers which were smuggled out through sympathetic wardens and soldiers and visitors. She was released in October 1986.
Her Christian faith was vital to her survival, she said. She reflected that when one is in trouble and under pressure, God always seems a little bit more closely. God was like a hand on her shoulders in the camp. Another key to Irina’s survival was the incredibly strong relationships she had with a dozen other women prisoners of conscience in the same place. Danger and common threat bind people together and make them feel responsible for one another. With the pace and pressures of modern and secular life, we tend to be so self-absorbed that it would seem that it takes an accident or illness and hardship of some sort to teach people how much they depend on one another. Irina and her friends would go on hunger strike if one of them were ill-treated. She says I feel happy that we all survived. All the women who were in the camp with her had become Christians, she says. Even one of them had gone on to become a Catholic Nun. This is a classical model for us.