Third Sunday of Easter Cycle C
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
My family has recently started watching a television program called The Chosen. It is a multi-season series on the life of Jesus, told from the vantage point of those around him, some of the disciples, hence the name “Chosen.” This includes Simon Peter, Matthew the tax collector, Mary of Magdala, and Nicodemus the Pharisee. It has a Catholic priest on its advisory panel, and by reports I’ve read has done a good job of portraying the events in a manner consistent with both the literal word of the Gospels as well as the historical times.
One of the problems you encounter when this sort of thing is done is trying to fill in all the details that aren’t in the Gospel. One episode, featuring the wedding at Cana, speculated on Jesus’ and his mother Mary’s relationship to the couple that were getting married – details not given in John’s Gospel, but if left out of the plot would leave it so bare bones as to lack dramatic affect. So they fill in the details, and like I said their guesses at these details have been favorably commended for their reasonableness and consistency to the known details of Christ’s life. But one of the drawbacks to doing this is that, if one, having listened to and read the Gospels over many years, pictured it differently in their mind, there can arise a note of dissonance, a feeling that they don’t have it right. This can cause one to lose sight of primary reason we are viewing it – to better understand and get a fresh take on the story of our Savior. The same thing happens when we’ve read any novel and afterward go to see the movie adaptation – we find ourselves critiquing the director for not doing the book justice instead of just enjoying the movie.
Take Simon Peter. He is a fisherman, that is known. Before Jesus called Simon to follow him, we don’t know anything about him. The series created a backstory of how he got himself and his brother Andrew into money problems, owing money to the tax collector for back taxes, and of course that tax collector is none other than Matthew, also soon to be called by Jesus. None of that is in the Gospel, but it is all very plausible – every person who owns his or her own business knows that there are times where the revenue drops off but the expenses keep coming at you, so if a fisherman has some bad days on the water, this would aptly fit the backstory of any of the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.
I must admit that I've not been disappointed with The Chosen. What I have come to appreciate about it is that the details that have been added, rather than distract, have helped me see the humanity of the disciples. Simon is portrayed in all of his messiness, as one that struggles and compromises and sins. In fact, the first time Simon appears he is trying to gamble his way out of his debt, which goes badly for him and only compounds his problems. Jesus did not ask saints to follow him, but rather he asked ordinary people to follow him so that they would become saints. In today’s Gospel, we have a reminder of Simon Peter’s recent failings. The parish mission presenters a few weeks ago reminded us that a charcoal fire is only mentioned twice in the Bible: the first time, for the fire that Peter stood around outside the temple gate when he denied that he knew Jesus three times [John 18:18], and now, for the fire that is cooking the meal where Jesus asks him, again three times, “do you love me?” How can it be clearer that Jesus, who knows that Simon has failed, yet still wants him to be the rock, the foundation, the leader of the disciples after his ascension. Despite all of his past failings, he knows that Peter will “feed my sheep.”
I can relate to Simon Peter. I too when I was young was brash and thought that I was so smart, that I could control my destiny, that people should do what I thought they should do because I got it and they didn’t. Peter also bragged that he would never deny Jesus, only to do it that very night. As our Lenten program The Search reminded us, God has always used real people, flawed people, to carry out his plan. Moses as a young man killed a man out of anger, righteous anger at a beating of a Hebrew, but killed him nonetheless and tried to cover it up [Exodus 2:12]. King David had an adulterous affair and then arranged for her husband Uriah to die in battle [2 Samuel 11]. Noah got drunk [Genesis 9:20-23]. Mary of Magdala was possessed by inner demons [Luke 8:1-3]. Yet they are all used by God to do his will. He not only forgave them, but then expected them to get back out there and lead the people of God.
Today, this reading is one of the texts that the Roman Catholic Church uses to show that Peter, among the other apostles, was particularly requested by Christ to lead his people, his Church. But Jesus is also asking all of us to be a part of this. God is calling you and me to be his witnesses, his disciples. He made you, he saved you, he calls you. We are reminded in the Easter season that God created us in his image and he wants to share life with us, wants to love us, wants us to be joyful. In a few weeks we will commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, where we are given guidance on what to do – we only need to listen. We can all be saints – it is not just for a select few. God can mold the clay of our life, if we give him the chance.
This week we celebrate the feast of the apostle that is our patron, Saint James the Younger. In The Chosen they call him “Little James,” to differentiate him from the other older James, the brother of John, whom they call “Big James.” While not much is known of his life, what we do know for certain is that he was called by Jesus and answered the call. He stood with Peter in today's first reading and proclaimed the Gospel despite the hostility of the Jewish leaders after the resurrection, and therefore exemplified the mission of our parish – go and make disciples. Our parish comes together to do the Lord’s will and we, like Peter, try to feed his sheep, which is to say each other.
As we continue with our Mass, let us ask, as we are fed by the Body of Christ, that we also are fed on his words, and are given the strength to do his will, despite all of our past failings. Let us pray for our parish, that it continue to thrive and support his Church and all people. Let the example of Saint Peter and Saint James inspire us to move past our failings and to live up to his challenge to feed his sheep.