Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Faith rises from the Ashes of Doubt

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

What do guys do when they need to unwind, think things through, let off steam, flee from insurmountable crises or withdraw from unbearable responsibilities? Simple, they go on fishing trips. The problem is that these excursions often prove to be unprofitable and brings us no closer to a solution, in spite of our best intentions and efforts. Not even the greatest Apostle, St Peter, is spared. He doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. He returns to the very place where his love story with Lord began. And this would be the very place, where it would be restored.  

St Peter has forgotten that no fishing trip is complete unless you bring along your best bait. In this case, it is Our Lord Jesus Christ, without whom all our projects come to naught. Just as it was in his first meeting with the Lord in the Gospel of St Luke, Peter and his companions had no success catching fish, until Jesus turned up and redeemed the situation. That’s déjà vu for you. But not only was the project redeemed. It was Peter, the failed Apostle, that had to be redeemed and restored. In this sense, the Lord proves that he is not just the Best Bait. He is a better fisherman. He not only facilitates the enormous catch on these two accounts but now begins to model what it means to be a fisher of men, a role that had already been entrusted to his disciples, but now reinforced. Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd in search of the lost, and when found, the lost sheep would now be transformed into a shepherd in his turn.

Here, in this last chapter of the Gospel of St John, we see the interplay of parallels and opposites and how they seem to converge in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The disciples move from far to near, both literally and figuratively. During a night of fishing they catch nothing, but at the dawn of a new day their poverty is reversed. Their quest is empty in Jesus’ absence; full in his presence. The darkness of night, their lack of success, and their distance from the shore all parallel their spiritual distance from the stranger on the shore. But Our Lord stands stationary on the beach, like a lighthouse guiding wayward sailors home safely, reinforcing the perspective that the disciples must move to where Jesus is. The story continues to weave a sacred symmetry meant to evoke memories. The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was to share a meal with them. Now after the resurrection, he shares a second meal. The communion and fellowship forged in the upper room, damaged by their denial and betrayal, is being re-forged in this scene. Prior to the crucifixion, Peter denied Jesus three times publicly. The coals of fire upon which the Lord cooks breakfast would take Peter back to the night he denied the Christ. Three times he said, “No, I do not know Him,” and three times Jesus would ask, “Peter do you love me?”

Both the locality and the context, therefore, does much more than to provide us with an eye-witness and detailed account of a post-resurrection story. It seeks to draws our attention to the vocation and mission of St Peter in particular and the Church, in general. Here by the lake, Peter first heard the call to be a fisher of men. Now, here he is given a second chance and a new mandate: “Feed my sheep.” No longer called to be just a fisher of men, but now also tasked with being a shepherd of men. And the words that would link the call of Peter to the conferral of this new role would be the same. At the end both stories, Jesus issues his enigmatic summons, “Follow me!”

Peter’s call to be a fisher of men is meant to spur him on to move beyond the safe boundaries of the group. It was a call to take risk and reach out to strangers, outsiders, foes, foreigners, and the unfamiliar. The role of shepherd, on the other hand, looks to what is within that boundary; that is, to the care and nurture of insiders. Peter already enjoys the role of lead ‘fisherman’ (21:1-3), who recruits others to join him in fishing. But now, Jesus’ triple command to Peter, “Feed...feed...feed,” constitutes a transformation for him. He now assumes a new role that he did not have before; a role held only by Christ, thus far. The Lord mandates that Peter act toward the flock as Jesus himself did. Peter is called to emulate the Good Shepherd Himself, the one who would voluntarily “lay down his life for his sheep.” Before Jesus’ arrest, Peter boasted that he “will lay down (his) life for” the Lord (13:37), a ‘noble’ claim that proved to be all words and no substance. But now in this episode, the Lord will call in his chips. He prophesies that Peter will indeed make good his promises. Peter will die a death that will glorify God, as Jesus’ own death was both His own glorification and the glorification of the Father.  

This story therefore brings together two important roles and important aspects of the Petrine ministry and the mission of the Church – evangelisation and pastoral care. If fishing is symbolic of the Apostles’ and Church’s effort to evangelise, then tending one’s sheep would certainly point to pastoral oversight over those entrusted into their care. In this age of the new evangelisation, the planting of the seed of faith and its nurturing overlap. Evangelisation and pastoral care often become one. There are many people who are baptised, and there it stops. Today, the unchurched are often the baptised. And for the many Catholics who continue to come to Church, they have reached a personal plateau where growth in faith has stopped – one hour mass on Sunday, annual visit to confessions at Penitential services, nominal financial support. Pastoral care, feeding and tending the sheep, today means deepening and challenging faith; in many cases, it means re-evangelising. It moves us beyond the comfortable pew. It brings people to a willingness to stand with faith conviction. It is a call, in short, to revitalise the faith.

Just like Peter, many of us may have lost sight of our calling, our initial fervour. Peter had lost sight of what Christ had originally spoken over him; that on him, the Rock, the Lord would build His church. We have lost sight of what happened at our baptism, we became living stones which are to be built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Failure, disillusionment and forgetfulness comes to us all. But Jesus shows us that in the resurrection, and because of the resurrection, restoration is possible. The resurrection reminds us that faith can emerge from the ashes of doubt, as life breaks forth from the prison of death. If the Lord conquered the grave; to restore us would certainly be within His reach. That is why the resurrection of Christ is the hard adamantine fact upon which Christianity rests. It is the great credential of Christ's mission. It is the foundation of our Christian hope.

The problem with many of us is that we seem to express greater faith in the severity of our brokenness than in the grace of God to restore us to wholeness. Many are afraid to look into the piercing eyes of Our Lord, for fear that they may see judgment. Others believe that there is no getting up from the royal tumble down the ladder of perfection and the only option would be to stay down, stay safe, instead of getting up and risk being hit by the bullets of criticism and ridicule. But the story of Peter’s redemption and restoration reminds us that failure need not be the ending written for life’s script. Perhaps, if we have the courage, the hope and the faith to peer into those tender eyes of our Merciful Lord, we would catch sight of something quite different, something that would surprise us – like a charcoal fire on a beach and a few fish being grilled by an old fishing mate, who patiently waits for us to reach the shore, even if it means moving an inch at a time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.