Yesterday’s gospel reading at Mass brings to us one of the most idyllic moments in all of scripture. It is a spring morning on the shore of the lake of Galilee, just as the sun is rising. The apostles, following the instructions of their risen Lord, have returned from Jerusalem up to the north country—their own homeland. They went fishing the night before, but caught nothing. Now, as day breaks, they are coming home, tired, somewhat dispirited by the futile work of the night, eager to go to bed.
There is a figure standing on the beach. “Have you caught anything to eat?” he calls to them. No doubt someone wanting to buy fish from them. They are in no mood for conversation. “No,” they reply curtly. They are busy with the gathering of the net. He calls to them again, “Cast your net to starboard and you will find something.” Maybe he can see better than they from his vantage point on shore. They have nothing to lose, so they trust him and make a cast to starboard. The net fills with fish, so heavy that they can’t pull it in. Suddenly, either because of the increasing brightness of the dawn, or because of something familiar about the figure and voice of the man on the beach, John says to Peter: “It is the Lord!” They go ashore. There they find a fire built upon the sand; Jesus is cooking bread and fish for them. Here is Omnipotence itself down on his hands and knees blowing onto a bed of hot coals to coax them into flame! On the night before he died, he knelt before them to wash their feet. Now he kneels again, to prepare their breakfast. What kind of man is this: he dies on a cross for the salvation of the world; he rises magnificently from the tomb, and now he is engaged in the simple, homey task of cooking breakfast on a beach in Galilee!
After their breakfast, he has something else he wants to do. He speaks to Peter: “Do you love me?” Peter is still terribly ashamed of having denied Jesus on the night before he died. Nonetheless, he tells the truth: “Yes; I love you.” Again: “Do you love me?” And again “Yes; I love you.” And then a third time: “Do you love me?” Peter had denied him three times. Now the Lord graciously gives Peter the opportunity to affirm his love for him three times in the hearing of the others. And with each of Peter’s affirmations: “Feed my lambs . . . tend my sheep . . . feed my sheep.” Christ is making Peter his vicar on earth, his first pope. But Peter must first pass the test for this position. Education? No. Prudence? No. Courage? No. Love. Do you love me? If you truly love me, then all else will be given you to become the rock on which I will build my church. And he looks at you and at me and asks the same question, so important to his divine heart: Do you love me? Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.