Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Third Sunday Of Easter, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 

The apostles were in trouble again with the religious authorities. They were quietly taken into custody because the temple police were afraid of being attacked by the Jewish people, who by now revered and protected the apostles from the high-priestly authorities. They are led before the high council, the Sanhedrin. This body was composed of 70 members, plus the current high priest who presided over their meetings. The Sanhedrin reminded the apostles that they had previously forbidden them to teach in Jesus’ name. Not only were the Sadducean high-priestly clans opposed to the apostles teaching the resurrection of Jesus, but they were also concerned with self-preservation. With the appropriate incentives, the crowds could turn violently against these aristocrats. Peter speaks for the apostles, opening with the famous words, “We must obey God rather than men.” The reaction to Peter’s defense, “When they heard this, they were enraged, and wanted to kill them.”

The great scribe Gamaliel, who was a member of the Sanhedrin and a Pharisee, intervened. He ordered that the apostles be put outside, while he came to their defense. The gist of his defense lay in these words, “Keep away from these men. Leave them alone. If this . . . undertaking is hum-an, it will fail, but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop it. You might even be found opposing God.” Gamaliel put the fear of God into them, but they still ordered that the apostles be beaten and again commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus. The apostles’ reaction: “rejoicing because they were found worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus.” The opposition of the Sadducees, especially the high-priestly families, continued until the end of their power came with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. by the Roman army. The Christians had friends in high places, probably all Pharisees: Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Gamaliel.

The Responsorial Psalm, 32, although not in its original intention, serves as comment on the dangers the apostles faced from the Sadducees. First in the People’s Response: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.” Then in the Psalm verses: “You did not let my enemies rejoice over me. You changed my mourning into dancing.” As to the opinion the apostles and the Christians may have had about their high-priestly enemies, “You preserved me from those going down into the pit.” The second reading, from the Apocalypse, continues from last Sunday the vision of the Christian prophet John in exile on the island of Patmos on a Sunday morning. In context, the Lamb (Jesus) takes from the hand of God a great scroll sealed with seven seals. Those around the throne of God sing a hymn of praise of and to the Lamb. Joining them are countless multitudes proclaiming “the Lamb that was slain” is worthy to break the seals on the scroll. They in turn are joined in chorus with every living creature. The Hymn of the Universe ends by proclaiming by implication the equality of the Lamb with God, “the One who sits upon the throne.” A grand Amen closes the hymn. Quite a liturgy, and a role model for the grandeur and closing of our Eucharistic Prayer.

After Jesus’ resurrection, ascension to the Father, return to the Christian Community and bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon them, the risen Jesus appears twice more. The final appearance is the context of this Sunday’s gospel reading. The disciples have left Jerusalem and gone back to Galilee. The home of Peter and his extended family are close to the Sea of Galilee (also called Tiberius). After the excitement of the events in Jerusalem they need a break. Peter decides to go fishing. He is joined by the no-longer-doubting Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others. All night they caught nothing. At dawn they saw someone standing on the shore, but did not recognize him. It was Jesus. Then the obvious question one asks fishermen, “Children, did you catch anything?” The address “Children” today might be better rendered as “Dudes.” Jesus got a curt answer, “NO!” Without modern means of locating a school of fish, Jesus tells them where to cast their net. They comply and the net is filled with fish. Who finally recognizes the figure standing on the beach? “The disciple whom Jesus loved!” The author, who may well be that disciple, is again playing favorites. Peter is naked in the boat, something our translators try to cover up. Always impulsive, he put on clothes and jumped into the water. All were now dragging the net full of fish. Jesus now displayed the kitchen training he got from his mother. A fire was going on shore, fish and bread being prepared by the fire. Simon Peter gets the attention of Jesus (and the author of the gospel) for the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is the commissioning of Simon Peter to be the Vicar of Jesus, the shepherd who tends the flock for his Lord. He had denied Jesus publicly three times. Even though he had immediately repented, Jesus gives him the opportunity for public reinstatement to the position to which he had appointed him as head of the community of disciples. The question, “Simon, son of John, (or simply Simon Johnson), do you love me? Three times Jesus questions. Three times Peter professes his love of Jesus. The response of Jesus, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” For us Roman Catholics, this is one of the foundational episodes for the Bishop of Rome as head of the Church. The author of the gospel wants all to know that this is not an imperial position like that of the Roman emperor, that it could even lead to martyrdom. Peter’s death as a martyr is envisioned. “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and some-one will dress you and lead you to where you do not want to go.” The author closes with the invitation extended to Peter years earlier, but now meaning martyrdom, “Follow me!”