Sunday, May 5, 2019
3rd Sunday of Easter
Liturgical Color: White
First reading: Acts 5:27–32, 40b–41
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 30:2, 4, 5–6, 11–12, 13
Second reading: Revelation 5:11–14
Gospel: John 21:1–19
The Sanhedrin has its guard haul the Apostles into court to reprimand them for not heeding their previous warning against preaching Jesus as the risen Messiah. The high priest charges them not only with illegally disseminating this unprecedented doctrine, but attempting to “bring this man’s blood upon us” — insinuating that the Apostles are falsely accusing the Sanhedrin of the murder of an innocent man, when from the Sanhedrin’s viewpoint Jesus was executed as a blasphemous criminal. But the Apostles respond, claiming that they have a divine call and responsibility to preach the risen Jesus, regardless of the Sanhedrin’s unconscionable ruling. Their justification is that “we are witnesses of these things.”
The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.… “We must obey God rather than men.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 2242
And with regard to the blood, it was the crowd’s response to the high priest’s own incitement that “his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25), so the high priest’s accusation in court does not accord with the facts. In the end, the Sanhedrin has no ground for prosecution, so the Apostles are again vainly ordered to “stop speaking in the name of Jesus,” flogged and released. The Apostles’ response, “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” of Jesus, shows that they are beginning to understand the implications of Jesus’ words about the persecution and suffering they will experience when they fulfill their calling as disciples of the incarnate Lord, a “sign that shall be contradicted” (Luke 2:34 DRV; compare John 15:18–25; 16:33; Romans 5:3; James 1:2; 1 Peter 2:19–21).
God allowed the Apostles to be brought to trial so that their adversaries might be instructed, if they so desired.… The Apostles are not irritated by the judges; they plead with them compassionately, with tears in their eyes, and their only aim is to free them from error and from divine wrath” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Acts, 13)
In this passage, as in many others, sacred Scripture teaches us that right and wrong are real values, that good behavior has objective worth. Obeying God’s commandment is still of obligation, even when others would punish us for taking our stand with Him.
“With respect to conscience,” Paul VI teaches, “an objection can arise: Is conscience not enough on its own as the norm of our conduct? Do the decalogues, the codes, imposed on us from outside, not undermine conscience […]? This is a delicate and very current problem. Here all we will say is that subjective conscience is the first and immediate norm of our conduct, but it needs light, it needs to see which standard it should follow, especially when the action in question does not evidence its own moral exigencies. Conscience needs to be instructed and trained about what is the best choice to make, by the authority of a law” (General Audience, 28 March 1973). – Navarre Bible Commentary
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” This is the acclamation of the myriads of angels of heaven (literally, “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” — in other words, an incalculably high number). The physical universe (“every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe”) responds: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.”
The phrase “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth” means everything that exists, wherever it is. In Jewish and Christian literature, the three places mentioned refer to God’s dwelling place, man’s dwelling place, and the dwelling place of the dead. The additional terms, “in the sea” and “everything in the universe,” serve to intensify the original term. The sea is the home of the monster Rahab; it symbolizes the demons, who dwell in the chaos of hell. The fact that even the demons are forced to join in the great hymn to Christ (“the Lamb” of God who was slain, yet lives = Christ; compare John 1:36) shows Christ’s power over the forces of evil.
The seven honors ascribed to Jesus in verse 12 are preceded in Greek by a single article, a way of indicating that they are aspects of a single reality. They attribute to Christ qualities that belong to God. The first four can belong to human rulers, but characterize God in a superlative degree: power and riches, wisdom and strength. Wealth and wisdom are traditionally regarded as aspects of God’s greatness (Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 8:22; Haggai 2:7–8). The last three express the worship due to the Lamb in view of his divine standing: honor and glory and blessing. – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
It is noteworthy that all creatures of heaven, earth, purgatory and even hell join in a singular worship of God, singing a hymn in unison. This is the liturgy of all creation. Our human liturgy in the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours is just a tiny part of this universal act of worship of the true God. We are joined to the others through grace, not merely through our own puny effort, because we — the Church — are members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22–23).
The commentaries, treating of this passage, are rich with the spiritual significance that the author, the Apostle John, has placed in it. We can divide this reading into two parts: the miraculous catch of fish, and the dialogue between Jesus and the Apostle Simon Peter.
The first part has seven of the eleven Apostles back in Galilee (Judas has hanged himself; the four others may indeed be nearby, but they are not fishermen, so they do not figure in this passage), still unsure what to make of the resurrection of their leader, Jesus, who had told them to return to Galilee and await further instruction (Matthew 28:7, 10). Finally, perhaps with little hope of seeing his Master again, Simon Peter decides to return to his former occupation of fishing; after all, they somehow have to make a living. The other Apostles accompany him, divided between the boat of Simon Peter (and Andrew, his partner, who may have been one of the two unnamed Apostles) and the boat of James and John.
21:3 that night: Net fishing was done at night (Luke 5:5). The most popular fish were tilapias, now called “Peter’s fish.” – Ignatius Catholic Study Bible
Interestingly, with the depletion of halibut, mackerel, cod and other deep sea fish, tilapia are in our time farmed commercially and are widely found in supermarkets and restaurants.
There is a striking similarity between the miraculous catch of fish narrated in Luke 5:1–11 and the one in this reading. The men had toiled all night and had caught nothing. Then Jesus suggests that they cast their nets in a certain place, and they enclose an enormous number of fish. The main difference seems to be that, in the passage from John, the net does not break. Patristic commentary sees this as an allegory of the Church, constructed by the “fishers of men” of each age, which is miraculously not torn apart and destroyed by the multitude and variety of its members.
Another take on the nighttime fishing is seen in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture:
They fish throughout the night, a customary time for fishing on the Sea of Galilee. But as we have seen, darkness often symbolizes separation from Jesus as well. Jesus had previously said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and not surprisingly, the disciples caught nothing. The implication is that they can fulfill their mission only if the risen Jesus is with them. After the disciples have fished in the dark, the risen Jesus appears on the shore in the bright light of dawn.
Another mystery: The boats are close enough to where Jesus is, on the shore, that they can understand his speech. Yet only John recognizes him and informs the others. There are several theories on this: Jesus has disguised himself, as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus; the distance (according to the text, about the length of a football field) was too great for visual recognition; the lingering darkness of early dawn; a dullness of spiritual insight. I am of the opinion that the last option is the correct one. Even at a young age, John was an extraordinary mystic. His spiritual insight is exceeded in the Bible only by the mother of Jesus.
“Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.”
What!? Simon Peter single-handedly hauled the net ashore, filled with 153 large fish, when the other disciples together could not hoist the net into the boat? What superhuman strength! But he was commanded by the Lord, so he was able to do it by divine power.
During the Farewell Discourse [John 13–17], when he told them that they would see him again, after the resurrection, he announced, “On that day you will not question me about anything” (John 16:23). Accordingly, none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” Just as they did with the miraculous catch (John 21:6–7), the disciples now recognize that the one who feeds them is the risen Lord. – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
The significance of the details in this passage is astounding. They recognize the Lord just as John had done earlier, although it took them a while, showing that they, too, had spiritual insight, but not as much as John. Following is another subtle recognition that only becomes available once the Church is established and functioning:
The meal that Jesus provides for his disciples has eucharistic overtones. John’s description of Jesus’ actions — coming over he took the bread and gave it to them, and in the like manner the fish — recalls both the multiplication of loaves and fish (John 6:11) and other New Testament texts concerning the Eucharist (Mark 14:22–23). New Testament writings also speak of the Eucharist as a privileged setting in which the risen Jesus is present: for example, the risen Lord revealed himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). The food that the risen Jesus provides for his disciples and to which they are to draw all believers is the Eucharist, the sacrament of his real presence, for “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
After their meal, Jesus takes Simon Peter apart from the others, asking him three times, “Do you love me?” What is the purpose of this interrogation?
Jesus initiates a very personal dialogue with Simon Peter, which focuses on the way Peter will bear witness to the risen Lord. It takes place after the breakfast, which was prepared on “a charcoal fire” (John 21:9) — a detail that recalls Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus in Annas’s courtyard, where he stood warming himself by “a charcoal fire” (John 18:18). Peter denied Jesus three times, thereby rejecting Jesus and his own status as a disciple. Thus Jesus does not address him as “Peter” but as “Simon, son of John,” his name before becoming Jesus’ disciple and the “rock.” Moreover, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him more than these, he reminds Peter about his solitary boast to be willing to lay down his life for Jesus and Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s threefold denial (John 13:37–38). Jesus now invites Peter to repent and profess his love for him three times and, in doing so, to restore their relationship. – Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture
Jesus’ response to Simon Peter’s profession of love — “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” — tells him that he is to be the shepherd of God’s people, the Church. Jesus remains the Good Shepherd, but he here conveys to Simon a share in the role and work of shepherd, under his now official title of Peter, the Rock.
Consequently, if the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 17), Peter as shepherd must be ready to do the same, for ultimately it will be required of him. This is why Jesus tells him that one day he will be led away and crucified (the hidden meaning of “stretch out your hands,” as the text itself testifies). Then come those final words of Jesus in this passage, encouraging Peter to remain faithful: After this he said to him, “Follow me.” — Peter is to conform himself and his life to that of his Master.