Sunday, May 5, 2019

Feed My Sheep

May 5, 2019 –– 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 divisive issues and poorly-formed opinions. Too many people speak more quickly and more often than they listen. 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. Who are we to listen to? Who are we to trust?  Today’s Scripture readings help answer these questions.

We can start with Peter. Peter’s prominence among the apostles is obvious. 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.

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.” So returning 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 it 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 loves Jesus. 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.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had another word for the sheep: If you love me, keep my commandments (Jn 14:15). How do we know what Jesus commands? How do we know what to obey? For almost 2000 years the Rule of Faith initiated and confirmed by Peter and the other Apostles 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 the voice of the 2000-year-old Church instructs us, warns us, and seeks to guide us, it is living out this calling Jesus initiated with Peter: Feed my sheep. When we listen to the established teaching of the Church and obey it, 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, keep my commandments.

These are inseparably connected. Jesus is still asking, “Do you love me?” In our world of competing voices, we need to listen to him. When the Church speaks, Peter is feeding the sheep!

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