In our readings today we are asked to consider what it means to be a lover of Jesus. We’ve taken up our crosses, followed Him, summoned our courage and have been willing to watch as He bore the weight of our own inadequacy. We as followers of Jesus’ passion have waited with the singular mark of patience, with hope, for His resurrection. We have witnessed His face and in it, we’ve seen the promise of new life. And today we are being asked to ponder what it means to wholeheartedly love Him.
Our Gospel today culminates in that evocative breakfast on the beach. This is the very last of the resurrection appearances. We know nothing is wasted in scripture. Every detail is precious and important. Every story teaches. John tells us that he could have shared so many stories, but he chose this one because it’s important. It could be argued that no other Gospel is as replete with meaning for living in anticipation of Christ’s return as this one.
The disciples’ worlds have been turned upside down in their three year walk with Jesus. After the devastation of His crucifixion and the inconceivability of His resurrection, the disciples are seemingly without a mission. It isn’t surprising that they return to the familiar rhythm and pattern of their previous lives. Peter leads them back to the beginning. Peter leads them to fish… (albeit unsuccessfully at first…echoing St. Luke’s Gospel in Chapter Five).
John, always seeing with the eyes of love, is able to spot Jesus first. Jesus is stable on the shoreline, as the disciples respond to the unpredictability of the Sea of Galilee. He no longer calls them ‘brothers’ but now ‘children’. Peter, always passionate and demonstrative, dives in (into water he once walked on by the power of fixing his eyes on The Lord!) He arrives at the shore to a charcoal fire (meant to evoke for us the fire around which Peter, for the first of three times, denies Jesus). What a painful reminder that fire must have been of Peter’s disloyalty.
At Jesus’ request they haul in the spoils of their unbroken nets: one hundred and fifty-three large fish. St. Jerome suggests to us the meaning of the number is the total number of species of fish which existed at the time in the Sea: representing the power of Christ to call every nation to Love of Him. Augustine of Hippo posits that the symbolic number of the fish represents ‘perfect divine grace’- that by some mathematical equation I’ll never understand encompasses the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, combined with The Ten Commandments. Regardless of interpretation: Completeness and Fulfillment in Christ is clearly enveloped in that unbroken net. And once again our hearts recall the feeding of the five thousand on that beach. The leitmotif of Christ’s provision and sufficiency which is always pervasive in John’s Gospel.
I met with a mother once, faced with the unimaginable task of preparing her husband and two children for a life without her. She’d been given the terminal diagnosis many years ago, and her time was running out. She knew it. She’d already defied unbelievable odds by the power of her own faith and grit. This mother sat with me and was primarily preoccupied, not remotely by her own fear (which I imagine must have been significant), but rather by communicating to her people the things that were most important to her. What was her legacy? What perspective could only she provide? What words remained unspoken? How could she open those broken hearts and place a lifetime of love there?
When Jesus breaks bread with his disciples again that morning, I can see that mother’s eyes. ‘Remember what I told you?’- ‘Break the bread! Feed one another! This is your mission. Keep moving forward, don’t return to your lives as they were. Don’t forget…. Do it in memory of me.’ A final deposit of all that is most important.
And then the camera zooms in. Jesus is deliberate in finding this moment with Peter. This, His last, and most important glorified appearance will be used to exemplify something for Peter. Peter is the rock on which the Church is built. The one with a unique share in the authority of Christ. The one to whom Jesus entrusts His entire flock. The one in whom is the delegation of pastoral authority. Peter is to feed and tend. There could be no more important lesson to no more important figure.
In his threefold affirmation of love for Jesus, Peter is guided to the most integral mark of an intimate lover of Christ: limitless love and mercy. Peter must be reminded of his need for Christ’s mercy in order to ultimately be the conduit of it. Teaching Peter that ‘to love is to forgive’ is our Lord’s last blueprint entrusted to a Church who is asked to spill divine mercy over a world in desperate need of it. A Church who is asked to confront their own finite love and follow the movement of the Holy Spirit into a radical, unbounded love. An agape love. A love like Christ showed Peter, and a love like Christ has shown us.
Kelly Meraw is the Director of Liturgy, Music, and Pastoral Care for St. John - St. Paul Collaborative (a thriving Catholic Collaborative of two parishes in Wellesley, Massachusetts). Kelly earned her Masters Degree from McGill University, where during her undergraduate studies she was received into the Catholic Church through the RCIA program at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal. Kelly brings her deep love of scripture, liturgy, music, and devotion to Church teaching and tradition to her ministry.
In her parishes she leads bible studies; organizes faith sharing circles and social justice initiatives; leads communion, wake and committal services; offers adult faith enrichment programming ;and shepherds bereavement ministries.
Kelly is also passionate about interfaith and ecumenical faith opportunities. She is the co-founder of Women of Faith in her community, where local female clergy create opportunities for interfaith communion and fellowship. Kelly was recently a panelist for Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, where she shared about her experience in Afghan refugee resettlement and the meaningful work and impact of Catholic Charities’ POWIR program (Parishes Organized to Welcome Immigrants and Refugees).
Kelly is frequent contributor to the work of Discerning Deacons, an organization engaging Catholics in the active discernment of our Church about restoring women to the ordained diaconate.
Currently she finds the undeniable movements of the Holy Spirit and great hope in the process of living as a deeply listening Church. She is the primary facilitator for her Collaborative’s Committee for Synodality, who are seeking to offer fulsome and inclusive ways to serve the Church’s Synod on Synodality.
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