April 14, 2013 –– Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 5:27–32 / Revelation 5:11–14 / John 21:1–19
Feed My Sheep
There is a mental and even spiritual fog permeating our society. Social media flood us with both issues and poorly-formed opinions. Too many people speak more quickly and more often than they listen. But who are we to listen to? Huge things are at stake: issues that touch our safety and security; others go to the core of the definition and meaning of human life. We find ourselves debating what is right or wrong, good or bad, false or true. How are we to form our thinking on such crucial matters? What resources are available to take us beyond our own (unreliable) personal feelings? Who are we to trust? Today’s Scripture readings help answer these questions, but it takes some thinking and process.
We can start with Peter. Peter’s prominence among the apostles is obvious, but for most of my Christian life I was oblivious to the implication that is so crucial in Catholic Faith. Matthew’s Gospel tells of Jesus giving explicitly to Peter the “keys of the kingdom” along with the name of Cephas –– Rock –– and the promise that Jesus would build his church on this “rock.” As the book of Acts unfolds, Peter is the spokesman. Peter is the one whose presence verifies the gift of the Spirit as the Faith extends from Jerusalem to Samaria and then to the Gentiles just as Jesus said. The church is, indeed, being established by Peter.
It is in this unfolding narrative of Peter that today’s Gospel gives the story of Jesus affirming Peter three times, surely for each of Peter’s three denials. For each time that Peter had proclaimed “I don’t know the man,” Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” And each time that Peter humbly and tenderly tells Jesus, “you know that I love you,” Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.”
There are numerous biblical themes converging here. Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus refers to those who follow him as his “sheep” –– My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (10:27).
When we embrace our baptism –– when we own the name of “Christian” –– we are among those Jesus calls “my sheep.” This brings us to my opening observations and questions: How are we to hear the voice of Jesus? As the issues of our world whirl around us with a cacophony of voices trying to tell us to think this... do that.... be for something or against something.... we need to be able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. How do we recognize Jesus’ voice? Many people in our world claim to speak for Jesus, and they often totally disagree with each other. Who are we to trust?
Jesus makes that clear. He calls Peter and gives him the opportunity to express his heart: “Do you love me?” And when Peter declares his love Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
We see Peter doing this in the Acts reading. He and the other apostles are preaching Jesus. The very ones who arrested Jesus and had him put to death now arrest Peter and the others. They are blunt: “Quit doing this.” They threaten the apostles, but Peter is a changed man. He does not back down: We must obey God rather than men. Peter is feeding the sheep. He is declaring what is true. He is modeling how the sheep are to follow the Good Shepherd. It’s not what human authorities say. It’s not what popular opinion thinks.
Jesus had also given a word for the sheep. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and then said “Feed my sheep.” Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus says to all who would follow him: If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15). In our Acts reading Peter shows us one thing that means: We must obey God rather than men.
How do we know what Jesus commands? How do we know what to obey? For almost 2000 years the Apostolic Rule of Faith initiated and confirmed by Peter has formed and guided Catholic belief and practice. Above all the other voices trying to get our attention for the many issues inundating our world, we are called to listen to the teachings that flow from the Petrine Office. When our bishops instruct us, warn us, and seek to guide us, they are living out this calling Jesus initiated with Peter: Feed my sheep. When we listen to the Church –– the Magisterium –– and obey, we show that we are sheep who hear the Shepherd’s voice.
Jesus told Peter, Feed my sheep.
Peter declared boldly: We must obey God rather than men.
Jesus tells all of us, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
These are inseparably connected. I hear of so many “Catholics” today who do not seem to understand this. When the Church speaks, Peter is feeding the sheep! There are many voices competing for our attention. Who do we listen to? Who do you love?