“Feed My Sheep”

“Feed My Sheep”

Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C, helps us understand why we need to say, “I, too, will reach out to all the people around me and serve them.”

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



This gospel, as you know, is in two parts. The first part, of course, is the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples, his apostles.

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 doubtful Thomas who doubted that Jesus had risen, there was Nathanael from Cana who, when he heard from Philip that they had found the Messiah from Nazareth, said very slyly, “Can anything decent or good ever come out of Nazareth?”

And so it was that the sons of Zebedee, John and his brother James, they themselves 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 Kingdom, and this was kind of an embarrassing thing.

And Jesus was patient with them all.

All these kind of people were in the boat.

And now they looked out and they saw that the boat was close to the shore and there was someone sitting there waiting for them and it was Jesus.

But they didn’t understand that it was Jesus and they didn’t recognise that it was Jesus.

And this is true of all the gospel stories after the Resurrection. At first they don’t recognise who he is. And, of course, this is because even though Jesus was the same man, he had changed.

And what had changed him was that his body had been transformed and he had entered a new way of being and his body was not the same body that was nailed to the cross, but it was the same man, Jesus the Lord, who definitely was.

And so it took them some time to get used to the comings and goings of Jesus at this time.

And when they brought the boat to shore, Jesus had prepared, naturally, bread, wine and fishes for their breakfast.

And, of course, anybody that knows John’s writing knows that what he was saying to the disciples was, “Remember the Last Supper. ‘You will know me in the breaking of the bread.’”

And, of course, the fishes were symbols of the new covenant and the new people of God.

They were called fishes because, to disguise their identity in time of persecution, they used to draw little fish on the ground to show one who perhaps wasn’t sure of the other as being a Christian, that they were members and followers of Jesus.

And that’s because the letters ichthys, which means fish, were also a form of the first letter of each of the Greek words Jesus Christ, Son and Saviour.

Then he gathered them into the meal, the holy meal which we ourselves know as the Mass.

And so it’s very intentional of John to let us know that the Risen Lord was not only among them but is among us as well. And that same tradition has been passed down. The Mass is called the breaking of the bread and we receive it to confirm and know that Jesus is with us.

This is the first part of the gospel.

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

But you notice Peter never asked for forgiveness and Jesus never forgives him. 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 him aside and he says to him, “Simon, do you love me more than all these others?”

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

So the key is not in forgiveness. The key is in the loving. And this is what is meant by that little passage.

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 the love of God. St Augustine says, “Our hearts will never rest until they rest in Thee.”

It means that there is more to saying I’m sorry to forgiveness and there is more to forgiveness than in asking for forgiveness.

Because what Jesus is reaching down to is 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 him and swore and cursed. He was unforgivable.

And he was unforgivable. He was denying that he even knew Jesus. He was doing something that was intolerable. And he had no right to ask for forgiveness because he had overstepped the boundary of betraying God Himself, and viciously and out of fear and distress.

But God reaches down beyond whether we are worthy of forgiveness.

Sometimes we think that we should be worthy of forgiveness. I don’t feel necessarily sorry, but I feel that I am worthy of forgiveness.

But God and Jesus understood that forgiveness is a gift of God, that nobody is worthy of being forgiven.

I say to my neighbour, “I forgive you.” It raises me up on high. I’m superior to him.

God doesn’t want to be superior to us. Why should He say, “Yes, I forgive you all all the terrible things you do.” It is not God. This is not the way God forgives.

And as for Peter, why should Peter even think of being forgiven for such a crime as this? It’s unforgivable to deny God Himself, to deny the one you love the most, to betray your own love. This is unforgivable.

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 his heart, no conditions, no extra reasons why you should or should not have this gift.

He reaches down — as he does to every single 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.”

And when Peter hears that, three times, he knows that there is something here more than forgiveness. It is that Jesus loves him and forgets everything except his love for Peter and he wants him to continue to be the one who would lead his church.

This is the kind of forgiveness that is here.

It’s as if Jesus was saying, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to do penance, you don’t have to be on your knees, you don’t have to cry for my forgiveness, for I have loved you from the beginning, and I will be faithful and true to that love for as long as we are together.”

The church is founded not on forgiveness, not on tolerance, not on finally coming to terms that we have 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 sins, so great is His love.

And that’s the lovely thing about today’s gospel.

We’re not to go out into the world and say, “Now if you forgive and fall on your knees and say three Hail Marys and three Our Fathers then we will forgive you.” This is not from God.

When we say those words what we mean is this: you are already forgiven by a lovely God who forgives and forgets even before you ask Him.

And now in gratitude you 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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