By Tony Crescio
Pope Francis has declared this year to be an extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for the Catholic Church. In the spirit of this jubilee, the Pope invites us to encounter Jesus Christ, who he calls, “the face of the Father’s mercy,” with the hope that we too become merciful like the Father, the theme for the jubilee year. Our gospel reading for this weekend from John demonstrates the type of encounter Pope Francis is inviting us to beautifully.
It is important for us to note that this encounter was begun with a recognition on the part of John, enlightening Peter as to who the person who stood on the shore was, Jesus. My friends, it is impossible to have the type of profound encounter that is the aim of this jubilee if we have not truly recognized Jesus as Lord; the Lord of all of history, and of our lives personally. Next, please notice where this encounter takes place. The setting is the very same as that where Peter had denied our Lord 3 times previously, near a charcoal fire. Peter had told Jesus that he would never leave him, even if it meant dying with him, but when push came to shove, Peter crumbled under the pressure near the charcoal fire outside of the high priest’s court. We all have these experiences. We come out of Mass, Sunday Service, hear a really inspirational speaker or song, or participate in an event that really sets us afire with a passion for living the life God wants us to live only to experience a bout of spiritual dementia the next time that conviction becomes inconvenient. This is the uncomfortable truth of our lived experience, we are constantly confronted with the fact that we are imperfect followers of Jesus Christ. However, though this be the case, it is not the desire of our loving God to leave us in our imperfection. No, it is His desire that we live life to the full, and that means being one with Him like His Son. Because of this, our God deigns to meet us in the very places where we fall, time and time again, to make even those moments opportunities for growth!
With arms open, our Lord comes to us, and allows us to reaffirm our determined yet imperfect commitment to follow. This detail comes out in the Greek version of the text. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he “loves” him, he uses the Greek word “agape,” the word used for the perfect love of God. However, Peter responds with the word “phileo,” which means the love of friendship. The third time however, Jesus uses the same word as Peter, denoting that our God is willing to continually meet us where we are in order to bring us closer to him. Then, having met us in our weakness, He gives the command, “feed my lambs/sheep.” This is to say, if you love me, you will take care of my people. Thus, we are called this jubilee year to focus on making the corporal and spiritual works of mercy a part of our daily activity. In these works, we imitate and grow in relationship with Jesus Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy, and so become merciful like the Father.