III Pentecost

June 25, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

Today we remember one of our Patronal Feasts – the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.  As I looked through the lessons, I
was drawn to the Gospel for today.  I was drawn to it because of what it represents for the relationship between Jesus
and St. Peter and what that can say about our relationship with Jesus.

Let me begin by looking at the exchanges between Jesus and St. Peter.  The lesson begins:  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"   This is a question which Jesus asks of St. Peter three times.  And each time the answer from St. Peter is the same:  "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."   

But Jesus’ reply to St. Peter is a little different each time.  First he says “Feed my lambs.", then “Tend my sheep.", and finally “Feed my sheep.  And after this whole episode, Jesus says to St. Peter "Follow me."

First, I want to look at why it is that Jesus asks St. Peter about his love for Him.  Perhaps you have either figured this out or have heard the answer before, but let me say it again.  To get at the answer, we have to go back to the story of Jesus Passion.

After Judas betrays Jesus and they take Him away, Peter follows to see what will happen.  Within the sight of Jesus, as
St. Peter stands by the fire to warm himself with the others gathered, he is questioned. 

Three times someone says to St. Peter, “You were one of his disciples, you were with Him.”  And St. Peter denies it.  After the third time, the cock crows and he remembers the prediction of Jesus that before the cock would crow, Peter would deny Him three times.  St. Peter goes and weeps.

Unlike the betrayal of Judas, Peter does not go and kill himself.  But he does not go to the crucifixion either.  Instead he hides with the other disciples, for fear of what would happen to him.

In asking St. Peter if he loves Him, Jesus is forgiving the denials of St. Peter.  He is giving St. Peter the chance
to say “I love you” the same number of times that he denied knowing Jesus.

I wonder how Jesus does that for us?  We sin. We deny Jesus by our actions.  How does Jesus forgive us?  How does Jesus allow us to say that we love Him in a way that elevates our guilt and leads to forgiveness?

But then there are those responses to St. Peter’s declaration of love for Jesus.  Remember Jesus’ responses?  “Feed my lambs.", then “Tend my sheep.", and finally “Feed my sheep.  And after the whole episode, Jesus says to St. Peter "Follow me."

“Follow me.”  This is the key to the whole thing, isn’t it?  Jesus is forgiving St. Peter so that He can get about the work of following Jesus.  St. Peter needs that forgiveness so that he can go and witness to the world about Jesus.  St. Peter is forgiven so that he can “Feed (Jesus’) lambs.", “Tend (Jesus’) sheep.", and “Feed (Jesus’) sheep.”

I think that the same is true for us as well.  We sin.  Jesus forgives.  But why does He forgive.  He forgives because He has a job for us to do.  There are still lambs and sheep in this world which need to be tended and fed.  Jesus forgives us so that we might “Follow Him”.

This is true for St. Peter in this morning’s Gospel.  It is true for our Patron Saint, St. Paul on the road to Damascus.  And it is true for us in our daily lives.  Is there a burden  of sin which prevents us from serving the Lord in a greater way? 
Then let go to Him for forgiveness so that we might get about the business of following Jesus.  AMEN.