LOVE BY THE CHARCOAL FIRE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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I have this story in my book “101 Inspirational Stories and 101 Motivational Thoughts” by an unknown author. I think it fits in here. Once upon a time, there was an island where all the feelings lived: Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, and all of the others, including Love. One day it was announced to the feelings that the island would sink, so all constructed boats and left; except for Love. Love was the only one who stayed. Love wanted to hold on and endure until the last possible moment.

   When the island had almost sunk, Love decided to ask for help. Richness was passing by Love in a grand boat. Love said, 
“Richness, can you take me with you? “Richness answered, “No, I can’t. There are lots of gold and silver in my boat. There is no place here for you.”

    Love decided to ask Vanity who was also passing by in a beautiful vessel. “Vanity, please help me!” “I can’t help you, Love. You are all wet and might damage my boat,” Vanity answered. Sadness was close by so Love asked, “Sadness, let me go with you.” “Oh . . . Love, I am so sad that I need to be by myself!” Happiness passed by Love, too, but she was so happy that she did not even hear when Love called her. 

    Suddenly, there was a voice, “Come, Love, I will take you.” It was an elder. So blessed and overjoyed, Love even forgot to ask the elder her name. When they arrived at dry land, the elder went her own way. Realizing how much was owed the elder, Love asked Knowledge, another elder, “Who helped me?” “It was Time,” Knowledge answered. “Time?” asked Love. “But why did Time help me?”Knowledge smiled with deep wisdom and answered, “Because only Time is capable of understanding how valuable Love is.”

Love has been observed to be the most popular and often used word in the world; and at the same time it is the most misunderstood and most misapplied phenomenon in the sense that most people confuse it with mere feelings or thoughts that could pass away anytime.

“I love you” is one phrase that is often used in many contexts. Many people just say it, some people believe in it, few people mean it, while a handful are ready to put it into action! As our story indicated, love if it is genuine is longsuffering and proved by time. It is not what one says but what one does that actually denotes love; love is a verb not just a noun! There are indeed litanies of professions of love in the world but little activations! Time and trials are platforms that form the measure of love.

Today we are presented with an interesting episode from the gospel of John (21:1-19). One can actually draw out a lot of themes from the gospel ranging from love, penance and reconciliation, Holy Eucharist to faith and waiting on God. Ultimately we shall still touch on these but using the theme of love as our guide since as St. Paul says, Love conquer all things (1 Cor. 13:7).

The gospel today began with the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ to some of his followers for the third time by the Sea of Tiberias one early morning. Earlier on Simon Peter, Thomas the twin, Nathaniel, and James and John the sons of Zebedee went to catch fish by the best to fish; at night. But they caught nothing. Now the Sea of Tiberias is one and the same location as the Sea of Galilee where our Lord called his first disciples which included Andrew, Simon Peter and James and John (Matt. 4:18-22; Mk.1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). From the account of Luke (5:1-11) we learnt that they toiled all night and caught nothing and when after using the boat of Peter to preach he asked them to cast their net and they caught so much as they did today. In all the accounts above they were given a new vocation to become fishers of men no longer fishers of fish.

It is understandable from the foregoing that these apostles went back to the old trade. They were supposed to be catching souls for the risen Lord, or wait on him (Psalm37:7) but they went to catch fish and that was why they caught nothing. Their mission did not have God’s permission they were on their own. They disconnected from a divine direction. This also happens in our lives. We become unproductive, scratching without success when we launch into what God had not asked us to do or what he had asked us to stop. Many people are not progressing because they are lounging in the wrong places and in the wrong trade.

Peter and the rest of the apostles were obviously disappointed and dejected when they laboured throughout the night and came out with nothing. In the morning our Lord Jesus Christ emerged at the shore of the river waiting for them to berth. God is not unconcerned about your fruitless labours. Be sure that he would meet you at that point where it may seem that nothing can be done about the situation. Jesus Christ thus appeared and asked “Children have you any fish”. Of course he knew they had nothing that was why the question was not “how many did you catch”. This also one of the rare occasions Jesus called them Children. He used the word to communicate to them how senseless their act was. Often we say that someone is acting like a child to denote immaturity. God knows when you have nothing and He also knows what you need and when.

In the night the apostles struggled and caught nothing. In the morning with Jesus they were asked to cast their net at the right side. This is very instructive. Without Christ we will be making the mistake of going the wrong way, the wrong side. But with Jesus Christ we are shown the right side; even the right place. When they OBEYED and cast their net, they caught so much fish (about 153) but in spite of the quantity the net was not torn. Obedience leads to blessings and God’s blessings do not come in small quantities they are always abundant and intact.

By the time they got out unto the land they saw a charcoal fire with fish already roasting on with bread by the side. Jesus Christ already prepared a breakfast for them. The word of God says that He (God) will supply all our needs according to the riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). God really cares about us and that is why the psalmist would say that young Lion suffer and go hungry but those who trust in God lack nothing (Psalm 34:10). Thereafter they ate the palatable combination of bread and fish from the hand of Jesus Christ.

After the meal a very important interlocution began between our Lord Jesus Christ and Simon Peter. This dialogue has its foundation on love. By the side of the charcoal fire Jesus asked Simon Peter three consecutive times if he LOVED HIM. Here we encounter a charcoal fire which reminds us of the charcoal fire during the arrest of Jesus Christ where Peter denied him (Matt.26:33). Hence by the charcoal fire at Gabbatha Simon Peter denied our Lord three times and by the charcoal fire by the Sea of Tiberias Simon Peter affirmed his love for Jesus Christ three times.

The evident point here is that Peter had professed his undying love for Jesus Christ when he said even if the others should fall away I will stand by you (Mark 14:29). He evidently did not abide by this promise and went ahead to deny the Lord at the most needful time. Jesus asked him three times if he loved him and three times he said he does and by so doing undoing the three historic times he denied the Lord. At two moments our Lord told him to feed the lamb and once he was told to tend the sheep. He had already been given the eternal headship and key at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:18-19). Simon Peter was fast to profess his love for our Lord Jesus Christ but failed woefully to carry out the mandate of that love at the needful time when trials came.

Love is divine because it is in the nature of God. St. John would thus tell us that God is love (1John 4:8). Love should be activated not just professed. Love is not some kind of feeling or emotion. Love is responsive to God’s word and it does not glory in evil things. Our love for God shows itself in our love for our neighbours (1 John 40:20). It is fittingly the summary of the Laws and Prophets (Matt. 22:37-39). Love if it is genuine forgives even when it hurts deeply. This was what our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated towards Simon Peter. He forgave him by coming to him and others at a desperate moment, he forgave him by orchestrating a big catch of fish, and he forgave him by providing breakfast by the same charcoal fire where he denied him. Our Lord granted forgiveness to Peter before asking him if he loved him and not the other way round.

We have so much to learn today from our Lord Jesus Christ. He granted us forgiveness on the cross and had shown us the example of forgiveness (Luke 23:34). We are called upon to forgive one another and also to ask for God’s forgiveness and reconciliation through the sacrament of penance. But it will be difficult for us to forgive unless we have love ruling in our lives. Based on this Simon Peter confessed that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Being forgiven and forgiving others (Luke 6:36) we have a stronger ground to approach the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Today the Church has become for us the charcoal fire where we get the fullness of God’s love through the sacraments. May the warmth of God’s love through this charcoal fire keep us warm as we pass through the cold path of life and be able to enjoy fully the bliss of the resurrection.

Happy Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead!

Fr. Bonnie.

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2 Comments on “LOVE BY THE CHARCOAL FIRE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

  1. Pingback: LOVE BY THE CHARCOAL FIRE: HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER. Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD | frbonnie

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