“Feed My Lambs”

“Feed My Lambs”

Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C, helps us understand that we must learn how to forgive, but in the forgiving, we must learn how to love.

Readings for Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

  • First Reading: Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
  • Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
  • Gospel: John 21:1-19 or 21:1-14


Written Homily

This gospel, as you know, is in two parts. The first part, of course, is the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after he had risen from the dead.

There were seven in the boat with Peter.

And all of them had a bit of a shady past in the sense that there was Doubting Thomas who doubted that Jesus had risen.

And then there was Nathaniel from Cana who, when he heard from Philip that they had found the Messiah from Nazareth, said very slyly, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

And there were the sons of Zebedee, John and his brother James, who once asked their mother to ask Jesus to put them in charge of everybody, that they would be Number One and Number Two in the Coming Kingdom, and this was kind of an embarrassing thing.

But Jesus was patient with them all.

Simon Peter and his companions had been fishing all night, but caught nothing. As they neared the shore, they saw a man who cried out to them from the shore asking if they had caught anything.

And when they said no, the stranger suggested they throw their nets over the other side of the boat. Which they did and suddenly the nets were filled with fish.

John cried out to Simon Peter, “It’s the Lord.” And Simon jumped out of the boat and swam to shore, while the others in the boat followed.

When they arrived, they saw the man had already started a fire and was preparing a breakfast of bread and fish for them. Everyone knew who the man was, but they were too shy to speak.

This was true of all the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. At first, they did not recognize him, but then were not sure. Of course, he had changed, his body was transformed and yet the same.

It took them some time to get used to the Lord who had risen from the dead, but they knew it was not a ghost but Jesus himself, who ate and drank and spoke and prayed with them just as before.

And they remembered the Last Supper they shared with him, and how they would always recognize him “in the breaking of the bread.”

So Jesus gathered them into the meal, the holy meal which we ourselves know as the Mass.

This is the first part of the gospel.

But the second part is even more interesting, because the second part is Jesus’ dialogue with his leading apostle, Simon Peter, the one who denied him three times.

And the dialogue is worth going over once again so that you will understand what it really meant.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

This is Peter being forgiven by the Lord for denying that he knew Jesus, not once but three times.

But you notice Peter never asks Jesus for forgiveness and Jesus never speaks of forgiveness to Peter. It has nothing to do with forgiveness as we know it. We say, “Oh, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” But it’s not that. It’s something much deeper.

Jesus takes Simon Peter aside and he asks a question. “Simon, do you love me more than these?”

And Simon says, “You know I love you, Lord.”

And Jesus says: “Feed my sheep.”

So Jesus is not asking for Peter’s apology, he is asking for his love. God needs men, God needs not only to love us but to be loved in return. The key words in this dialogue is in the loving and not the forgiving.

Every person born into this world has a deep and lasting hunger at the centre of their heart, and that hunger can only be satisfied by love, all love, but especially by God’s Love for us and our Love for God. St Augustine’s famous prayer: “Our hearts will never rest until they rest in Thee.”

This means that there is more to forgiveness than just forgiving people. We must learn how to forgive, but in the forgiving, we must learn how to love.

Jesus is reaching down to Peter’s inability to ask for forgiveness. And rightfully so. He was the leader, he was the one who was going to lay his life down for Jesus and, at the words of a simple little maid, he denied he ever knew his Master and deserted him in his hour of need. This was and is unforgiveable.

But God’s arm reaches far beyond who is or is not worthy of forgiveness. “I forgive you is not far enough. Only “I love you” is adequate to restore love. And that is why Jesus does not say to Peter: “Peter, I forgive you.” But rather: “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Then feed my sheep.”

And so what is it, then, that makes this such a lovely gospel?

Jesus reaches down to that basic yearning of every human being. And that yearning can only be satisfied by the love of God coming into our heart, no conditions, no extra reasons why you should or should not have this gift. ‘

He reaches down — as he does to every human being, into the deepest part of our hearts, where the yearning for completion is born with us and stays with us no matter how many sins, no matter how many betrayals, no matter what we do, there is that hunger of the heart — and Jesus, in his great generosity, forgets everything else and reaches down and says to Peter:

“Feed my sheep. I love you, I trust you and now I ask you to take care of them for me.”

The church is founded not on forgiveness, not on tolerance, not on finally coming to terms with our having to forgive each other.

The church is founded on the love of God which doesn’t ask that we ask for forgiveness. For God forgives even before we think of committing the sin, so great is his love.

And now in gratitude you and I can say, “I, too, will join to feed your sheep.”

It means, “I, too, will serve, and because you’re beneficent and good and gracious to me, I too will reach out to all the people around me and serve them, serve them so they will know that love is unconditional and always goes out and asks for nothing in return.”

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