This section of John’s gospel is an epilogue. It is clearly added on to the body of the gospel by a disciple of John’s. Let us call him the evangelist. Virtually all scholars think that he got he got the theology right but some think that he lost the tone. It is admittedly anti-climactic. In just the past few weeks we have read the washing of the feat, the Passion, the resurrection, and last week the extremely dramatic appearance to St Thomas. Yet the Gospel will end with a fish fry and a gentle rebuke of Peter. This is intended and perfect.
No matter how dramatic the events of our lives, there comes a time that we must get back to work. This is what Peter, and the others are doing today. It is in the middle of their regular work that Jesus calls to them. He changes this common task into an opportunity for spreading the good news or more simply to evangelize. At his word and instruction, they filled their nets to overflowing but as John mentions the net did not break. Responding to Jesus is always fruitful but never more than what we can handle. He then invites them to join him for a meal. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish: we are meant to see a connection with the multiplication of the loaves and the fish and overtones of the Eucharist.
This is very perceptive. We spend more time working than praying and even if much of it is now digital and solitary, we nonetheless create relationships in whatever the workspace is or will be. Pause for a second and think about how much you know about your fellow students or coworkers. It is often a great deal although it may be hard to remember how one gathered the information.
This is a wonderful opportunity for evangelization. Because of the abuse scandals, the seeming identification of the Church with a single political party and a harshness to some groups to name just 3 issues Catholics can seem, at best, irrelevant. Some parishioners have shared the incredulity of co-workers or fellow students when they realized they are catholic. The reaction is often “but you’re so nice.” Most often his comes from people who were brought up Catholic and have left often quite understandably. Giving people lectures no matter how well thought out on their error will not be effective. A joyful response to life especially when things are difficult is the gold standard of evangelization.
John reminds us however that personal influence can only go so far, and humans need community and ritual. For Catholics this is the Mass celebrated in a community to which you have some commitment. As you have heard from me perhaps too often “Belonging comes before believing.” Or more simply connect to continue. There is a witness of personal influence, and it is especially important, but the benefits of the church only come from participation in a Eucharistic community.
The evangelist shows us that forgiveness is the key to fulling this mission. In the gospels Peter is matched with Judas. They both betrayed Jesus. Indeed, of the two Peter’s betrayal hurt Jesus the most. He was after all the chosen leader. Both realized the seriousness of their sin. Judas thought that this was so great that he could never be forgiven and killed himself in despair; Peter aware of his sin still knew in his heart that Jesus was not done with him and returned to upper room for reasons he could no doubt not explain.
This has hung over the gospel; how would it be resolved? Jesus could have asked for a public apology, perhaps assigned a difficult penance, or demanded that Peter offer a sacrifice in the temple. Yet he simply asks Peter 3 times if he loved him and after each Yes, tells him to feed my lambs. This reflects peters three details in the high priest’s courtyard but also the Good Shepherd passages in John. Remember especially that Jesus says that the good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. Bringing the good news requires that we do it for the good of the hearer not for our own self-aggrandizement. This needs to be seen most clearly in the leaders of the Church and so Peter is told that he will make the ultimate sacrifice. “Someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
How extraordinary. All the gospels agree that Peter was not a partiality inspiring candidate for first Pope. It is difficult imagining the craven Peter in the high priest’s courtyard going to his death for Jesus. Yet listen to him in the passage from the acts of the apostles read earlier at Mass: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Acts will further reveal that this most impatient of men became an effective diplomat This strength is the gift of grace but there is the life of graciousness that comes from the original weakness.
If Peter had never sinned so brazenly, he might never have known his need for forgiveness and may have tried to evangelize on his own with the same lack of success as on the lake. Jesus had told his disciples that without him they can do nothing, but this is hard to believe until one has sinned, repented, and been forgiven of it. It was with Peter and it will be with us. Our strength comes from the realization that it is not ours but Jesus’. Our weaknesses are in plain sight perhaps better understood by others than ourselves, but we must decide to share our greatest strength: the forgiving presence of the risen lord. It is what makes us human and builds the church. Only those who know how they themselves were broken and forgiven can know who needs healing and what that healing will be.