Hey! Look! A homily! Remember those???
7th Week of Easter (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory
At the moment of his testing in the Garden, Peter, as Jesus predicted he would, denies knowing the Lord three times and flees for his life. Peter must've been surprised by his failure of allegiance. After all, didn't his Master give him the steward's keys to the kingdom of heaven after naming him the Rock of the Faith? What sort of rock denies his Maker? What sort of leader retreats in front of those he leads? All that time with Jesus. All those lessons. All those moments of revelation, wonder, and friendship abandoned and denied in a panicked escape from certain arrest and possible execution. At the moment of his testing in the Garden, Peter contradicts his Teacher, speaks against his Master; and now, he's given the chance—three chances, in fact—to repent and try again. The first time: “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Twice more and we're told: “Peter was distressed that [Jesus] had said to him a third time, 'Do you love me?'” Distress?! Peter is distressed that his love for the Lord is being questioned? Does Peter's incredulity seem misplaced? Having denied even knowing the Lord, why is it too much to believe that he might not love the Lord? Jesus' examination of Peter's fidelity is perfectly just and necessary. To feed the Lord's sheep and follow him to the Cross requires more than bare words, more than mere intent. You must be led to where you do not want to go and die there for the glory of God.
Feed my sheep and follow me. These are the two commands that Jesus issues to Peter after he confesses his love for the Lord. Unspoken but clearly implied is the powerful, logical connector, “therefore.” Peter, do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. Therefore, feed my sheep. Therefore, follow me. Because you love me you will provide for my people the food and drink they need for eternal life and you will follow me to the Cross and a death you do not seek. There is no time for panic, no place to run. You love me, I know this; therefore, come after me teaching what I taught and doing what I did. Lead my people out of your love for me—even as the Cross comes clearly into view—so that when you die you die for the glory of our Father. Our friends love me too and there is no greater love than to die for one's friends, to sacrifice all we know and possess to show those we love the way back to Love Himself. If they are lost, find them. Once found, feed them. And then, follow me.
Christ's command to Peter is his command to all of us as well. We say we love the Lord and though we may not recoil as Peter did at the Lord's wariness in accepting our claims of love, we know too well our failures and our flaws. If we are distressed when our claims to love the Lord are not believed, it is likely because we are shy in accepting what follows after the “therefore.” Feed his sheep? Yes, of course, but what about family obligations? Yes, but what about my money issues? Yes, but I have my reputation to consider? Follow him? Surely, yes, of course, but does he mean follow his line of thought? Or follow his example? Does he mean literally follow his footsteps? Do I have to die? Yes, you do. We do. Die to self. Die for others. Die for our love of him. Peter denies knowing Christ and therefore denies loving him. Without that love there is nothing to feed the sheep, no one to follow. Peter's love redeems his denial. And his death fed the Church. Now it's our turn to profess a sacrificial love for Christ and do what he commands.
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