May 5, 2019 – Third Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40-41 / Revelation 5:11-14 / John 21:1-19
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
I have mentioned my former neighbor, Shirley, in past homilies. In those homilies, I alluded to the fact that Shirley could be a demanding, difficult woman. I assisted her for over nine years – cutting her grass, raking her leaves, shoveling her driveway, getting her mail, and whatever else was needed. Carol and I continued to care for her as she grew older and her health began to decline. Eventually, she was hospitalized and later moved to a nursing home. As a side note, Shirley is doing well and remains as cranky as ever.
When she moved into the nursing home, she asked if I would sell all of her belongings and oversee the sale of her house. She only trusted two people in the world, she said – me and her son. Her son Al, whom I had never met, was wheelchair bound and was not able to help me with this task.
This was not a simple request to sell a couple of chairs and a couch. Shirley’s house was full – every room, the garage, the attic, and the outside shed were full – from floor to ceiling. Knowing this, I still did as she asked.
After several months of work, the house was empty and ready to be sold.
Although not very deacon-like, I did a happy dance on the day the sale on her house closed. No more extra grass cutting, leaf raking or snow shoveling. No daily checking in on Shirley or responding to her demands. It was the best of both worlds – Shirley was being well cared for and I was not the one doing it. I was free; I no longer worked for Shirley.
God showed his sense of humor just two days later when I received a text from Shirley’s son, Al. It read simply, “You need to take me over to see my mom.” Not, “Would you mind?” or “Is it possible?” Just a statement of fact as to what my next duty was.
I took him to see his mom. On that day, nearly two years ago, I discovered I now work for Al. Depending on what’s going on in his life, I receive anywhere from 5-25 texts a week from Al. They say things like, “You can pick up my prescriptions today” or “I have a check that needs deposited.” The closest I get to having a choice in the matter is when the text says, “Would you prefer to pick up my Clicklist at Kroger at 6:00 or 7:00 this evening?”
Recently, Al has had some health concerns of his own. He was hospitalized for a time and then transferred to a rehab facility. This past Tuesday, I received a text from him telling me I needed to bring him some clothes and other items from his apartment and I, of course, did as he ordered. When I arrived at his room at the rehab facility, he did not seem his cranky self, but looked and acted sad. We visited briefly. Before leaving, I surprised Al by asking if he wanted me to pray with him, something I had not done in the past.
He surprised me by saying, “Yes.” I took his hands in mine and we prayed. Tears welled up in his eyes. As I left, I heard him say softly, “Thank you.”
On Thursday, I picked him up to take him to a doctor’s appointment. While in my car, he asked if he could talk to me about something personal and began to cry. He said our prayer together made him realize something was missing – he needed Jesus in his life and wanted my help.
Like in today’s gospel, Jesus was asking Al, “Do you love me?”
It was powerful. Al had reached a tipping point. Perhaps it was a response to his health concerns and the recognition of his own mortality, or maybe the prayer we shared ignited memories of a past relationship with God. Whatever it was, things became clearer for Al that day. He realized he needed to re-direct his life and invite Christ to be a part of it.
We made plans to meet again soon to read some scripture together.
St. Peter was an impulsive, passionate, and energetic man who often acted without thinking. Sometimes this worked out for him, many times it did not.
Consider our experience of Peter throughout scripture and the number of times Jesus had to calm him down and explain things:
At the transfiguration, Peter got excited and suggested they immediately build three tents – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Jesus explained why he shouldn’t do that.
At the Last Supper, Peter stopped Jesus in the midst of his lesson on servitude, telling him, “You will not wash my feet!” Jesus explained why he must wash his feet.
So Peter jumped impulsively in the opposite direction, telling Jesus, “Then wash my head and my hands too!” Jesus calmly explained why he wouldn’t need to do that.
It was Peter that pulled out a sword and cut off the soldier’s ear when Jesus was being arrested. Jesus explained there was no need for that.
In today’s gospel, we heard, When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment and jumped into the sea.
That’s our impulsive Peter!
Moments later, Peter had an intimate encounter with Jesus – just the two of them face-to-face on the beach. It proved to be the tipping point for Peter. It was there that Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” The gospel tells us that when Jesus asked the exact same question three times, Peter was distressed.
He likely wondered, “Is this Jesus’ way of telling me he doesn’t trust me?”
More likely, this was Jesus’ way of saying, “Think this through, Peter. Reflect on the question and carefully consider what I’m asking.”
What happened on that beach changed the course of Peter’s life; he no longer needed things explained to him. Soon thereafter, Jesus ascended to heaven and Peter was left in charge.
His goal was simple: preach the gospel no matter what. It was a thoughtful, reflective answer to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” He re-directed his passion and energy toward an unwavering, “Yes!”
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard the high priest say to Peter, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.”
Peter said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Basically, Peter said, “We can’t stop, and we won’t stop.” He was all in.
Where are we on our faith journey? Is it time to re-direct our efforts?
Are we sitting at one extreme or the other? Lost and feeling disconnected like Al? On fire for our faith but in need of focus and direction like Peter? Perhaps we are somewhere in-between.
We could wait for circumstances or external forces to eventually lead us to a tipping point. OR we can choose to re-direct our life toward Christ. It is in our control.
Jesus is asking us right now, “Do you love me?”
How will we respond?