Every year, on the Third Sunday of Easter the reading from Acts presents Peter bearing witness to the Resurrection, and, in the Gospel, the Risen Jesus himself appearing at a meal, the initiation of the crowning sacrament, the Eucharist. Peter voices the Church’s unchanging assertion: “We must obey God rather than men,” or the popular culture, or even laws that violate God’s commands.
In today’s Gospel, Peter resumes his pre-apostolic occupation of fishing, fruitless now as before—until Jesus intervenes. Saint Jerome suggests that one hundred- fifty-three represents all of the known number of species of fish: meaning that the Church’s “net” has room for the whole diverse human race, its unity-in-diversity secure in the hands of Peter and his successors. It also has been noted that possibly there were 153 known countries at the time of Jesus.
Whatever the meaning of the exact number, we do know that in today’s Gospel the one hundred fifty-three fish were caught at Jesus’ command.
The early disciples were busily heeding Jesus’ command to spread the Good News. Listening to God’s word today, perhaps we can think about what results we might have if we were to heed Jesus’ command to us. How many fish might we catch?
Have you ever considered the two places in Scripture where the curious detail of a “charcoal fire” is mentioned?
One is in today’s Gospel, where the Apostles return from fishing to find bread and fish warming on the fire.
The other is in the scene in the High Priest’s courtyard on Holy Thursday, where Peter and some guards and slaves warm themselves while Jesus is being interrogated inside. At the first fire, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, as Jesus had predicted.
Today’s charcoal fire becomes the scene of Peter’s repentance, as three times Jesus asks him to make a profession of love. Jesus’ thrice repeated command “feed My sheep” shows that Peter is being appointed as the shepherd of the Lord’s entire flock, the head of His Church.
Jesus’ question: “Do you love me more than these?” is a pointed reminder of Peter’s pledge to lay down his life for Jesus, even if the other Apostles might weaken. He then explains just what Peter’s love and leadership will require, foretelling Peter’s death by crucifixion (“you will stretch out your hands”).
Before His own death, Jesus had warned the Apostles that they would be hated as He was hated, that they would suffer as He suffered. And, we see the beginnings of that persecution in today’s First Reading. Flogged as Jesus was, the Apostles nonetheless leave “rejoicing that they have been found worthy to suffer.”
Their joy is based on their faith that God will change their “mourning into dancing,” as we heard in today’s Psalm. By their sufferings, they know, they will be counted worthy to stand in heaven before “the Lamb that was slain,” a scene glimpsed in today’s Second Reading and also in Revelation. We too must suffer in this life so that we can know the joy of eternal life with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus commisions 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 love you, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners love those who love them!
“And of 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