3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have you ever been in a relationship where you both needed to talk, but you were reluctant to do it because of the pain it would raise?  You slough it off, act as if everything is fine, but it won’t be until you have the talk you both know is coming. This is the third time that the disciples had seen Jesus risen from the dead, but Peter and Jesus have yet to talk about that Peter’s three denials the night Christ was arrested.  You can imagine a lot of silent nodding during that time, but the conversation has yet to occur.

And finally it does.  Jesus takes Peter aside by the water and asks the provocative question, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Chastened by the experience of over-promising and under-delivering as when he began walking on water and fell and when he claimed that all might deny Jesus but he never would, Peter will not claim superiority.  He humbly says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  He is told, “Feed my lambs.”  Jesus asks him the same question a second time and receives the same answer a second time.  Again Jesus tells Peter, “Tend my sheep.” Finally, a third time Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  The Gospel tells us Peter is “distressed” that Jesus asked a third time as the pain of his failure to support Christ at his darkest moment floods him.  But it is necessary that the three denials are reconciled with three affirmations of love.  Wearily, he says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  He is told feed my sheep.

Yes, Peter has expressed his love for Christ as we do right here.  But there is a cost, a responsibility in uttering the words I love you to Jesus.  “Feed my lambs.”  “Tend my sheep.”  That is what Jesus demands of all who follow him.  Or as they said in “My Fair Lady,” “If you are in love, show me!”  To claim to love Jesus is to desire to act as he did – which means we can only respond to our world with love, compassion and gentleness.  To love Jesus is to make Mercy our master.

This attitude appears to be reflected in the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the family, “The Joy of Love.”  While attention will be spent on the hot button issues, Francis makes active, caring love the heart of the family.  It is to that flock that we are primarily called.  Because it is love and because it is family, we accept all without discrimination.

But there is even a more stringent call placed upon us as Jesus further expands on the notion of family.  He tells Peter when Peter was younger he would dress himself and go where he pleased and do what he wanted.  “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  It not only indicates that Peter will follow Jesus to the cross but it reminds us that the bond of love means surrender to the will of God. Pope Francis makes clear that we do not pick and choose whom we serve and how we love them. It is apparent that it is not enough to simply welcome those who are here in irregular situations, those who come to us need to be blessed and cherished regardless of marital status or sexuality.  It seems to me that we are called to go out to all those who might feel and have been made to feel excluded and ask them what do they need, how can they feel more at home, how can we ensure they know they are family.

And if this is our challenge as a church, it is also how we must live our lives and reach out to those excluded from our families by decisions they have made or hatreds long simmering.  We are not called to be passive lovers grudgingly accepting those whom God has given us.   We are called to be active lovers pursuing those on the outside, on the periphery, and embracing them as Christ did.

Only then can we dare to use the words, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Only then can we dare to own for ourselves the last words Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me.”

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