Today we witness the scene of Jesus’ last earthly meal and encounter with his disciples… Although this story sounds like one of the simplest in John’s Gospel, it is full of symbolism. Seven disciples decide to go fishing…At dawn, the risen Jesus appeared on the shore…He asked his disciples if they had any success. In response to their “no,” he suggested an alternative that brought in almost more than they could handle…On the shore Jesus awaited them with bread and fish, the same food they had once shared with a multitude near that very lake when they first traveled with him.
The food was meant to jog their memory, much more so the charcoal fire where Peter encountered Jesus. The only other time this Gospel mentions a charcoal fire, Peter was warming himself by it while he denied knowing Jesus. At this fireside, Peter would encounter Jesus as never before.
Jesus never mentioned Peter’s failings, and Peter made no apologies or excuses. For Jesus, reconciliation was not a matter of guilt, blame or penance, but an opportunity for transformation. Three times Jesus asked if Peter, “Do you love me?” The first time, Jesus specifically asked if Peter loved him “more than these,” perhaps referring to Peter’s preference for being first. At this point, Peter would not claim priority. He simply answered, “You know that I love you.”
This was Peter’s confession. Standing humbled before Jesus, knowing that Jesus was fully aware of who he was and everything he had done, Peter acknowledged his weakness and claimed his source of strength. He needed to say no more than, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
In response, Jesus made no mention of the past. As he had done with everyone he healed or forgave, Jesus looked to the future and gave his forgiveness and grace by entrusting Peter with his mission. When Jesus had appeared among the disciples in the locked room, he commissioned them to forgive. Now, as Peter learned what divine forgiveness meant, Jesus commissioned Peter to feed and tend his sheep.
Until this moment, Peter could not have carried out Jesus’ mission. Until Peter had been broken and wept, he didn’t really know himself. Peter had to realize that when his loyalty was fragile and his love overcome by fear, Jesus still loved and even trusted him…Peter had to accept his frailty as Jesus did. Then, and only then, could he understand what it means to love as Jesus loves. Until Peter had passed through this experience of betraying and being forgiven, he lacked the necessary knowledge and humility to tend Jesus’ sheep.
Pope Francis reminded our bishops – and all of us as well – that we need an awareness of being sinners to enter into affective communion with one another…without a heartfelt and prayer acknowledgment of our limitations, grave cannon work effectively within us. (Taken from Mary McGlone’s commentary in Celebration)