I have not experienced this myself, but I know of situations where someone’s physical condition has necessitated consideration by a person and his/her family about whether the person should undergo some radical and invasive surgery or treatment. Even treatment that is somewhat commonplace, such as radiation treatment for cancer, can be quite aggressive. This kind of decision is not easy to make, and there is never a 100% guarantee that the treatment will work.
I bring this up because in our Gospel reading for today, the apostle Peter is invited to go through some radical treatment for his spiritual health. In John’s account, the Risen Jesus has appeared to His disciples twice before, but there’s no record of any conversation between Jesus and Peter at those times. I can imagine Peter asking himself, “Is He going to mention it? Is He going to ask why I denied I knew Him?” And so, when Peter decides to go fishing, something with which he is very comfortable, he finds out the answer to his questions.
At first the disciples don’t recognize Jesus, when He asks them if they caught anything. When they tell Him, “No,” He suggests that they put their nets over the other side, and the catch is so large that the disciples realize that it is Jesus to whom they’ve been talking. When Peter drags the net full of fish, John makes a point that the “net was not torn.”
And then, Jesus talks to Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” When Jesus asks the third time, Peter is distressed. He now knows for sure that Jesus hasn’t forgotten. And this, to me, is the radical treatment that Jesus administers to Peter. In saying, “Simon, son of John,” Jesus is asking Peter not as the first of the apostles, not as a disciple, but personally, as himself. And so Peter has to come to grips with what he’s done. But Jesus isn’t about punishment, or humiliation. He’s about love, and wants to know Peter’s response. Peter is not condemned, but reconciled! As difficult as it must have been, this is what Peter needed to move forward in peace. His response to Jesus’ question is “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And Jesus’ response to that is a variation of “Tend my sheep.”
As difficult as it may be for us, we may need the radical treatment of taking a good look at what we’ve done that has taken us away from God, and have Jesus ask us if we love Him. But wait a minute! Is the Easter season the time to talk about stuff like this? Easter is the time to talk about this because we know we can deal with what is difficult in the hope and joy of Easter. We need not be afraid to let Jesus in. We need not be afraid to have Jesus get personal with us. Look at that net full of fish. Dragged over sand and rocks, it was not torn. If we’re willing to look at what takes us away from the love of God, and we’re willing to let Jesus in and heal us and call us by name; to let Jesus love us, as scary as it may seem, we will not be torn! I think people in recovery know this when they take the 4th and 5th Steps.
If we take the treatment, and let Jesus ask us, “Do you love me?” what will our answer be? If it is “Yes,” we know that Jesus will call us to tend to each other.
May we choose the treatment that Jesus offers, and let His love heal our hearts and minds and souls. And to make sure the treatment “sticks,” may we take care of each other.
In the Risen Christ,
Fr. Phil, CP