Last Sunday we found encouragement in the fact that it was not easy for the apostles to grasp the difference the Lord’s Resurrection should make in their lives. Today’s gospel reading from John tells us of the conversion that brought this difference in Peter, destined to become the fearless leader of the Twelve. According to this account, the disciples have already been in the presence of the Risen Lord more than once; but - still uncertain what is required of them - they are taking up their old life: ‘I’m going fishing’ ‘We’ll come with you’. Most are slow to recognise Jesus on the shore of the lake; it is the disciple bonded to Jesus by a special love that is the first to do so. And even when they have joined him they hesitate to interrogate him. The whole account underlines the change of heart they still have to undergo.
It is Peter especially who must be converted, if he is to be their leader, when with him they come to know that they are called to be ‘fishers of men’ – with the Lord at their side. Peter is confronted with his threefold denial as Jesus asks him three times, ‘Do you love me?’. Scholars have long discussed the fact that, in this exchange, two different terms for ‘love’ are used. In his first two questions, Jesus uses the word Christian faith came to identify with the New Law brought by Jesus (agapao). When Peter responds evasively, using another less demanding term (phileo), Jesus asks for a third time, now using this less demanding term – as if to say, reminding Peter of his recent failure, ‘Are you really sure that you care for me at all?’ Now Peter is ‘upset’: confronted by his inadequacy he knows that he can only rely on the Lord’s decision to entrust him with a role of leadership, and now he used the word he has been avoiding (J. Marsh): ‘Lord you know everything; you know I love you’.
We see how well this new trust in the Risen Lord sustains Peter as he faces the Sanhedrin, the very body in the presence of which he had felt intimidated when he betrayed his Master. Unafraid of them now, he has ‘filled Jerusalem’ with his teaching. Now he sees his life, shaped by the Lord’s call, as ‘obedience to God’ – whatever it may cost. He gives his fearless witness to the God of Israel as the one who raised Jesus to be ‘leader and saviour’ – confident that he is supported by ‘the Holy Spirit whom God ; has given to those who obey him’; and he calls those who unjustly put Jesus to death to ‘repentance and the forgiveness of sins’. Now the lessons of the Risen Lord, given on the evening of his resurrection day, have become the charter of his life.
An encouraging memory for each of us in our Easter reflections, as we seek to respond to the call of the Risen Lord in the confusion of our lives. In a trusting acknowledgment of our weakness we shall find our true strength.
John Thornhill sm