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April 10, 2016

JOHN 21:1-19

The Stranger on the seashore vs a fisherman who gets wet.

I see buds and green leaves sprout out on the trees in my backyard.  When I first arrived in Canada, I saw branches without leaves, without fruit, I thought those trees were dead. Some months later, I knew how wrong I was.  They were not dead but were waiting for the Spring to transform themselves. 

According to John's Gospel, this is the third time the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to his disciples.  Their faith was not dead yet.  But it was not strong enough, not convincing enough, so they returned to their former career as fishermen.  They were waiting for their Master to come and transform them. 

When I read the fishing story of the apostles, I tried to imagine the situation of the fishermen in our own day.  Let's say, in Newfoundland, those who have fished day in and day out, for generations - and who now catch nothing.  A stranger appears on the seashore not to console them, but to ask them to put out the nets one more time.

In the midst of weariness and discouragement of the apostles, the Stranger, the Risen Lord appeared.  He did not give up, he called them again, especially Peter.  If I were Jesus, the first time I met Peter after the resurrection I would say to him: "Ah, you are a nice one!  The time I needed you most, you deserted me.  You were the leader of my apostolic team, but you set a terrible example for others.  Go away from me.  I am finished with you."

Peter was lucky because the Risen Lord Jesus did not have the same thoughts as I do.  Jesus did not discard Peter.  He did not cut down the trees without fruits in the winter. The Risen Lord was able to see into the heart of Peter.  He knew that Peter's denial was caused by weakness rather than evil.  He did not go back over what had happened since Peter was only too painfully aware of the reality of it.  Yet neither did he tell him: "Just forget it - it was nothing!"

So what alternative was left?  To go forward.  Love, we are told, keeps no record of offenses.  So the Risen Lord called Peter forward.  Jesus asked Peter to declare his love in public, since his denial had also been in public.  The amazing thing is that love can co-exist with weakness and with failure.

A Christian, a disciple of Christ has to have the wisdom to know that the greatest enemy is himself or herself.  Peter learned that the hard way - through the experience of his own weakness.  Thus ultimately the experience that might have ended it all resulted in a great step forward, a great purification.  It rid him of his pride and his blind reliance on his own resources.

Peter's story is one of calling, falling, and recalling.  The vocation of a Christian's life is not something one hears once and answers once.  We need someone to believe in us, someone to give us a second chance.  We need someone who does not discard us because we do not come up with the goods at once.  Yes, the Risen Lord who gave Peter and the disciples a second chance always gives us a second chance, a third, a fourth, a fifth and so on, even when we have failed.  I do not mean that we failed our career or something material.  I mean from time to time we have failed to answer the call to a Christian life with our whole hearts.  From time to time we have answered that call with a 'half yes'.  I upgraded my computer twice this year, but sometimes I forgot to upgrade my 'yes' to the call of the Risen Lord.

Christian life is a call which has to be heard many times, and responded to many times.  Each day a part of our chosen path opens up before us, a part we have not stepped on before.  We have to say 'yes' to the new as we have said 'yes' to the old.  As time goes on, as one goes on, the call of the Risen Lord gets deeper and deeper, and the response must become more interior and more personal.

In this and every Eucharist, we as the people of the Risen Lord, listen and respond to his call.  In our failure, in our weakness, the Stranger on the seashore, the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, continues to trust in us.  Nobody likes to fail.  The apostles had failed.  But the Stranger on the seashore got them to say, "We caught nothing - we failed."  If we can say these words in the presence of the Risen Lord, then suddenly failure loses its power over us.

Once Peter recognized the Stranger on the seashore, he wanted to encounter him, he wanted to be near him.  The experience of the Resurrection implies a vocation to evangelize, to pass on the good experience and the Good News; Peter and the apostles made it plain to the authorities which persecuted them as we have heard in the first reading.  There is a world of difference after we have encountered the Risen Lord.  The Risen Lord nourishes us and gives a task to do.  He says to us: "Feed my lambs, Feed my sheep."