Once upon a time, a 49 years old woman asked her husband,” My love what are you going to get me for my 50th birthday?” The husband replied; “Honey! Please wait, we still have some time left and you will surely get something very precious from me and it will be a surprise.” The wife smiled and beamed with hope and joyful expectation.
By the time it was getting to the woman’s birthday, she fainted while she was doing some chores at home and was consequently rushed to the hospital. After examining her, the doctor concluded from the diagnosis that her heart was very bad and that she had less than 20% chance of surviving.
She was lying on her back when the husband came by to see her in the evening and she said softly, “My love… have they told you that I am going to die?” The husband replied; “They said your heart is really bad but you are not going to die; you will live”. She was silent and could only cry; her birthday was just few days away. The husband eventually stood up to go but stopping by the door he looked back in tears and said to her: “Honey, remember we have two hearts that beat as one. One may be bad but the other will continue to beat!” She did not say anything but just nodded and turned her face to the wall and prayed for a good death.
The next time she woke up she felt better and opening her eyes she saw flowers, balloons and a beautiful cake on her hospital table. Looking around further, she saw a large card with an inscription that says: “HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY!” On the card she saw a letter that was strapped with an inscription on the envelope: “SEE YOUR SURPRISE BIRTHDAY GIFT INSIDE!” Immediately she knew it was her husband and she was eager to open the letter. She thought it could be a bank check or may be the papers to one property or another. When she opened it what she saw was this: “IF YOU ARE READING THIS LETTER, IT MEANS YOU DID NOT DIE AS I ASSURED YOU. I JUST GAVE MY HEART AS A BIRTHDAY GIFT TO YOU. LET THE HEART KEEP BEATING BE STRONG FOR US. I TRULY LOVE YOU!”
It was at this point that the woman realized that her husband donated his heart to her so that she could live though he had to die as a result of the donation. The woman sat down there crying for hours unending and wishing that she had died so that her husband could live. But that was only a wish, the sacrifice of love had already been made!
Love from the point of view of our story above does not mean mere feelings nor sporadic affections. Love as love is all about sacrifice: giving up one’s best for the sake of another. In the estimation of our Lord Jesus Christ, its highest expression involves the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Just the same way the husband in our story gave his heart (or life) for the sake of his wife.
From the foregoing, we can say that the opposite of love is not really hatred but inability to give up something precious to oneself; the inability to make sacrifices for the sake of others. Love does not seek for itself (1 Cor. 13:5). Love is not situational nor conditional. Love does not ask questions. Love does not know protocols!
The Gospel Reading today (John 21:1-19) gave us one of the exciting post-resurrection narratives involving the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ to some of the apostles. We have within this narrative so many themes, like love, as we noted earlier, penance, reconciliation, Holy Eucharist and Holy Communion, faith and God’s amazing power. We shall touch briefly on these while taking up LOVE as the lead focus.
Our Lord Jesus Christ on this day appeared to Simon Peter, Thomas the twin, Nathaniel, James and John the sons of Zebedee and two others. These apostles left the work of evangelization and took to the sea to catch fish following the arrest, passion and death of their master our Lord Jesus Christ. However, their attempt to catch fish was fruitless as they caught nothing though they went at the right time; at night.
It is important to note here that 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 the next day, our Lord asked them to cast their net into the deep and they caught so much fish as they did today.
It is very expedient to state here that these apostles went back to their old trade which was fishing fish and abandoned that of fishing men. In fact, they were supposed to be catching souls for the risen Lord while awaiting the resurrection, 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 the divine direction. This actually happens in our lives. We often become unproductive, and scratching without success when we launch into what God had not asked us to do or when we continue with what he had asked us to stop. Many people are not progressing because they planted themselves in the wrong places and in the wrong preoccupations. There is always a difference between walking with the Lord and walking without him.
It turned out to be a bad day, nay night, for Peter and his fishing mates whereby they toiled throughout the night and caught nothing as if the fish community went on vacation. Not even a juvenile fish entered their net. In the morning, our Lord Jesus Christ emerged at the shore of the river waiting for them as they emerged from “fishless” expedition. God knows your struggles and be sure that He would meet you at that very point of need where it may seem that nothing can be done about the situation.
Appearing to them our Lord Jesus Christ asked thus: “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 is also one of those rare occasions Jesus called them Children. He used the word to communicate to them how childish their mission was. Often we say that someone is acting like a child to denote immaturity. Without God’s bidding and support our efforts become more like a child play.
In the night the apostles struggled and caught nothing, though in the absence of Jesus Christ. However, in the morning, with Jesus Christ, they were asked to cast their net at the right side and caught so much fish. This is very instructive. Without Christ we will be making the mistake of toiling at the wrong side. But with Jesus Christ we are shown the right side; even the right place. When they cast their net following the instruction, they caught so much fish (about 153). But in spite of the quantity the net was not torn. Obedience often leads to blessings and God’s blessings do not come in small quantities they are always in abundance and intact.
By the time they got to the land they saw a charcoal fire with fish already roasting on it and 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 settled down to partake from Jesus’ breakfast of bread and fish. You can imagine being served breakfast by our Lord. Indeed our Lord has been serving us breakfast. The highest of which is his body and blood which we partake in the Holy Eucharist.
After the well deserving breakfast, our Lord Jesus Christ took time to ask Simon Peter a very important question that is rooted on the theme of LOVE. Sitting by the charcoal fire our Lord Jesus Christ asked Simon Peter three consecutive times if he (Peter) LOVED HIM (Jesus Christ). The interlocution went thus:
Jesus Christ: Simon son of John do you love me more than these?
Simon Peter: Yes, Lord you know I love you.
Jesus Christ: Feed my sheep!
Jesus Christ: Simon, son of John do you love me?
Simon Peter: Yes, Lord you know I love you.
Jesus Christ: Tend my sheep!
Jesus Christ: Simon, son of John do you love me?
Simon Peter: Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.
Jesus Christ: Feed my sheep!
Here we have a post-resurrection encounter with so much to learn. The charcoal fire here reminds us of the burning charcoal fire on the night of 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 number three here denotes completeness and deep resolution.
Let us also note that our Lord Jesus Christ did not here call him Simon Peter but his native name Simon son of John. This is quite instructive as it denotes the fact that Simon’s love should emerge from deep within him; the root of his being and not just based on his professional name and position as the rock. It was also not the usual name Jesus calls him. Imagine your boss calling you the name your grandmother calls you! Often some of us appear too professional, official and superficial when it comes to showing love to others. For instance loving as a manager cannot be the same as loving as “Pius my elder brother” though it is the same person. The manager will love with conditions and protocols but John will love naturally without conditions and protocols.
By the nature and character of our Lord’s visit to the apostles, we identify love. Love is the message and the message is love. It was love that moved our Lord to seek out his close disciples who abandoned him when he was arrested and taken away for crucifixion. It was love that brought our Lord to them after their fishless toiling throughout the night. It was out of love that he directed them to where they can make a huge catch and it was out of love also that he kept breakfast for them after the fatigue of the night.
In the interrogation with Peter, our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated to him that he, being the head of the apostles, should make sure that the love story continues. Truth to the fact, Peter had professed his undying love for Jesus Christ when he said that even if the others should fall away he will stand by Jesus (Mark 14:29). However, he broke this promise and went ahead to deny the Lord at the most needful time. Jesus Christ our Lord asked him three times if he loved him and three times he said he does and by so doing he undid the three historic times he denied the Lord.
The quick lesson we can learn from the encounter is that Love is a verb not just a noun (being another name for God; 1 John 4:8). This means that love should be activated not just professed. Love is not some kind of feeling or emotion as we mentioned earlier; it is expressive in acts of sacrifice just as our opening story demonstrated. Love if it is genuine forgives even when it hurts deeply. This was what our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated towards Simon Peter and the others who went away when the going got tough.
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. The Church is today, our modern day charcoal fire where we get the fullness of God’s love and warmth through the sacraments. May this warmth of God’s love continue to raise the warmth of love we have for each other especially as we continue to radiate the joy of the resurrection.
Happy Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead!