Who Is It?
Homily for April 10, 2016 Third Sunday of Easter - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
“But the disciples did not realize it was Jesus.”
Have you noticed that in almost every post-resurrection account about the encounters between Jesus and his disciples, at first they don’t realize that it’s him? Even in today's Gospel, as they are sitting around the fire eating breakfast with him, it says that they didn't dare ask him who he was. They've already encountered him twice before this and still don't see that it is him, even as they realize it IS him.
Think about it. In the story about the encounter on the road to Emmaus the Gospel says that the two travelers were kept from recognizing Jesus, but in all of their other encounters they just flat out don’t recognize him. Even Mary of Magdala, when she meets Jesus outside of his tomb, didn’t know it was him until she heard his voice.
I thought about that the other day when I saw an old friend who I hadn’t seen in quite a while. He’d been suffering from a lingering illness and had easily lost half of his body weight. The illness had changed his once-robust manner into one of trembling and unsteadiness. It wasn’t until I heard his voice that I recognized him – that I could “see” that it really was him.
Now, I don’t believe that Jesus looked particularly gruesome or anything like that; in fact, I’ve also had trouble recognizing old friends who have undergone dramatic changes for the better. And I remember when I shaved my beard off for my 50th birthday. I’ve had a beard almost my entire adult life, and I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t recognize me. My own daughter wouldn’t even look at me because, she said, “I recognize the voice but I don’t know who it’s coming from.” (Yeah, after a week I grew it back.) So, maybe Jesus shaved?
Anyway there’s something – different – in Jesus’ appearance. Nothing spectacular; Mary of Magdala thinks he's a gardener, and others on the street don't react as they would to the sight of someone with an angelic appearance. But it’s the same Jesus.
Why is that so important?
Because it reminds us that we will encounter Jesus every day of our life, and we will not recognize him if all we do is look at him with our eyes. We have to listen for him, watch for him with the eyes of our heart. And when we do encounter him, then we need to be ready, for like Peter, Jesus is going to turn to us and ask us:
“Do You Love Me?”
What goes through your mind when someone asks you that question? I asked my wife that question Friday and I immediately got the “eye-roll” – “Of COURSE I love you.” (Fortunately, she was in a pretty good mood and smiled at me.) But when you think about it, when we ask that question of someone, or if someone asks it of us, there's often an underlying sense of doubt or insecurity that triggers the question. We're seeking reassurance that we are still - special - in the eyes of the other person.
“Do You Love Me?”
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus ask the question of Peter three times. But it isn't because Jesus is seeking reassurance from Peter. Most scripture scholars say that Jesus asked the question three times because Peter denied him three times, and they are correct. But as is often the case with scriptures, there’s more to it than that. And it has to do with the many meanings of the word, “Love”.
St. John uses two different Greek verbs for "love" in this encounter between Jesus and Peter – "agape", or self-sacrificing love, and "philia" , or caring, brotherly love. And I bet the conversation between the two really went something like this:
Jesus: Simon, do you love me enough to sacrifice everything for me more than for these others here?
Peter: Yes, Lord, I care for you - you’re like my brother.
Jesus: Hmmm… Ok, then - feed my little lambs.
Jesus: Simon, do you love me enough to sacrifice everything for me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, I care for you - like you’re my father.
Jesus: Hmmm… Well, tend my little sheep.
Finally, Jesus changes tactics – instead of asking for the agape’, or sacrificial love, he asks Peter: Simon, do you love me like a brother?
The third time Jesus asks using the word "philia" for brotherly love instead of "agape" for sacrificial love, and the change to a lesser form of love probably distressed Peter as much as the fact that Jesus questions him three times. Peter replies that Jesus knows everything – he knows how much Peter loves him – more importantly, how much he WANTS to love him. Peter speaks from his heart; but he has been humbled by earlier failures. He’s afraid to say that he can sacrifice everything for Jesus, knowing what happened the last time he said it.
Jesus knows and accepts this, but he also knows that there will be a time that Peter will be called upon to show his sacrificial love for Jesus. And Peter will, ultimately dying on a cross himself. In fact, we see him risking everything to stand up before the Sanhedrin and testify to that love in our first reading.
Each time Peter replies to Jesus, Jesus then gives him a command that reflects the love that will be required from him – not just brotherly love, but sacrificial love. Peter may not be able to express it, but Jesus knows that, once the Holy Spirit descends on him and the rest, they ALL will indeed love with sacrificial love as they tend to the fledgling Church.
What about us? We’ve been given the same commands: feed my lambs; tend my sheep. And during this Year of Mercy, we are constantly reminded that we must fulfill the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and they will require from us a sacrificial love – not just brotherly love.
One final note. Earlier this week, Pope Francis released his Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” or “The Joy of Love” – his response to the Synod on the Family last fall and the work leading up to it. It recognizes the many challenges faced by people today and how we, as Church, must respond to them. He reminds us that for those of us called to married life, our love for each other must reflect the same intensity of love that was asked of Peter by Jesus – more than a deeply personal love toward our spouse but one of true sacrificial love; a true love and call of devotion which demands of us a giving of ourselves to another totally. And whatever vocation we are called to – marriage, single life or life as a religious or clergy - our vocation not only calls us, but it defines us. In all cases we are called to show the agape, or sacrificial love asked of us by God.
“Do you love me more than these?”
Jesus is waiting for an answer.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
May It Be Done
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul Meeting, April 4, 2016
Dcn. Bob Bonomi
Today is the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord - the celebration was moved from March 25th this year because it fell on Good Friday. Because of its importance, the feast was abrogated to the first day after Easter and it's octave, which is today - Monday, April 4th. We read in today's Gospel from Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 to 38:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
We are reminded that when God calls on us, we may not understand why us, or how we can respond, but if we say "yes", great things can happen. Say yes to his call. Let it be done according to God's will.