This is the third week of an Easter series on the Resurrection. This week, we encounter the Risen Jesus from the perspective of Saint Peter.
By: Rev. Robert Wagner, Secretary to Bishop Loverde
When Saint Peter encountered the Risen Jesus, his heart was heavy from the weight of recent failings. After boasting that he would lay down his life to protect Jesus (Jn 13:37), and showing a glimpse of that as he brandished a sword in the skirmish at Christ’s arrest (Jn 18:10), Peter allowed fear to overcome his courage. Following Jesus’ arrest, Peter and John went to Our Lord’s trial at the home of the high priest. There, as Peter warmed himself beside a charcoal fire, three separate people audibly recognized him as a disciple of Jesus, and three times Peter denied that he knew Our Lord (Jn 18:17,25,27). Acutely aware of his repeated betrayal, Peter left the crowd around the fire to be alone, where he wept bitterly (Mt 26:75). The Gospels make no mention of Peter’s whereabouts on Good Friday. During the Passion, Crucifixion and burial of Jesus, tradition tells us that Peter was in hiding out of fear.
On Easter, even after he had seen the empty tomb (Jn 20:6-10), Peter was locked away with the other Apostles out of fear (Jn 20:19). The Apostle Jesus had chosen to be the Rock on which He would build His Church (Mt 16:18-19), was afraid, disbelieving, and bearing the shame of his recent offenses against Jesus. At this point, we might determine that Our Lord’s choice of Peter was, at best, misguided.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus appeared to Peter and the other Apostles three times: twice in the upper room in Jerusalem, and once more on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is on the shore of the sea where the Risen Jesus intentionally met Peter’s sorrow, fear and sin with divine mercy, healing and faithfulness. It is this encounter that prepared Peter for the mission that Jesus entrusted to him.
When the Risen Jesus appeared to the Peter and the Apostles in Galilee, they were fishing. Once they realized it was the Lord, Peter jumped into the water to swim to Jesus, so eager is His desire to be with Him (Jn 21:7). As this was the third time he had seen the Risen Lord, Peter was likely beginning to wrap his mind around the reality of this great mystery of life after death, and the joy that sprung forth from this truth combined with his love of Jesus could not be restrained.
While on the shore, Jesus prepared a charcoal fire to make breakfast for his Apostles, which to Peter may have brought to mind the fire he gathered around when he denied Jesus three times. However, at this fire, it was Jesus who questioned him three times, asking him, “Peter, do you love me?” With each of these questions, Our Lord drew three declarations of love, three declarations of Peter’s contrition and three declarations of his faithfulness. At that moment, in the presence of the Risen Lord, there was no fear in Peter’s heart, only love. Peter was frustrated that Jesus asked him three times, but even in his frustration, he showed the deep faith needed in order to fulfill his mission in the Church: “Jesus, you know everything,” says Peter. Yes, Our Lord is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect love. In Him we place our hope.
In this encounter with Jesus, Peter not only saw the mercy of God, but he also recognized His faithfulness. Jesus does not abandon Peter when he falls, but instead reminded the Apostle of the faith and love He has in him. Looking back, it was three years prior, on those same shores, that a similar event took place. After a night of catching nothing, Jesus brought about a miraculous catch of fish, which caused Peter to both honor and admonish Jesus as he fell down before Him and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). At that time, Jesus did not depart from Peter in his sinfulness. Instead, He called him to something greater. “Follow me,” Jesus said, and He would make Peter a fisher of men, the rock of His Church, the Shepherd who would feed and tend to His sheep. Three years later, on the same spot where Jesus called him, Jesus again said to Peter, “Follow me” (Jn 21:19). Jesus was faithful to Peter, and He called Peter to find strength in that faith, even to the point of death.
On Pentecost, we see that strength, powered by the Holy Spirit, as Peter set out to be the rock of Christ’s Church. We see it again at his martyrdom in Rome, as Peter entered into eternal life with Our Lord.
Jesus calls each of us at Baptism, yet in our lives, we know we will be led away from Our Lord by temptation and fear. Let us pray to Saint Peter to strengthen us in those times, and remind us of the mercy and faithfulness of the Lord.