With this gospel reading occurring during this days of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can see how important Peter's resolute commitment to Christ really was. It would be easy to leave early for fear of the persecution that they were already experiencing. It would also be easy to leave simply because nothing has happened. Today would be the eighth day of tarrying and for what? They really had no clue what being "baptized with the Holy Spirit" would be like. Maybe it had already happened. Who knows? The key will be Peter's now-unwavering commitment to follow Christ, no matter what.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - In the world of marketing there's a phrase you hear a lot nowadays - over-promise and under-deliver. Eager to please, it is easy to make a promise upon which there will be little or at-best insufficient follow-through. Not only is this a problem with some overly optimistic business moguls. It seemed also to be a pre-Pentecost issue for the Apostle Peter.
Perhaps the most powerful example happens in the Upper Room when Peter assures our Lord that he would always remain faithful. In response, Jesus tells the apostle that not only will he deny him but do it three times. When it actually happens, Peter is devastated.
In his early post-resurrection appearances, neither Peter nor Jesus makes anything of this denial. It was not referenced and Peter was among the first to see the resurrected Christ. It still must have haunted him, however. As the leader of the apostolic company, he had done exactly the opposite of what he declared publicly.
We cut now to John 21, when Jesus was with his disciples in Galilee. Peter and the others had gone fishing while awaiting the resurrected Lord. When they see him, he had fixed a beachside breakfast for them all.
After breakfast, Jesus focuses his attention on the sturdy fisherman. What he does next, with all intention, is used to restore the special connection he has with this apostle. Three times he asks Peter is he loves him. Three times he receives the affirmation "yes." Jesus then tells him to feed his sheep.
Much has been made of this exchange, as it is recorded in the Greek text. Whatever words in Aramaic that were used by the two along the Sea of Galilee, John's Greek text makes a strong case - at least in some minds - of a major distinction in the exchange.
Two times Jesus asks if Peter loves him using the word "agape," which is the word for love that connotes divine love or a love, which demands no love in return. Two times Peter responds using a different word for love, "phileo" which indicates a more filial type of love.
Then in the final exchange, Jesus uses the term phileo as does Peter. As Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a few years ago, there are two major schools of thought - one that embraces the changes as being significant and the other, which sees no real difference. Both of these, as he points out, vigorously hold to their positions.
He also made the observation that if you put 17 theologians in a room, you'd end up with 17 variations, none completely agreeing with the other. This would also be quite true.
If we were to adopt the first point of view (one that I tend to embrace), St. John - who was there by the way and witnessed the exchange - was showing an interesting distinction between the old and new Peter. Peter did not over-promise by indicating a quality of divine love for Jesus, but rather chose to remain more humble in acknowledging what he knew to be true; he had a strong filial love, to go any further would be irresponsible, particularly based on his previous behavior.
Jesus, then, was able to meet his follower at the point of honestly and ask for a commitment that could be honored. No more over-promising, Peter was affirmed and reconciled as our Lord said, "Follow me."
This moment of truth became the link to a future that Peter could never have imagined..
Follow me to the Upper Room
Just prior to the Ascension of Jesus, he told his disciples not to depart Jerusalem but to wait for "the promise of the Father," the Holy Spirit who was to come upon them.
After our Lord ascended into heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and the Upper Room where they had been staying. It was there that Peter initiated the selection of a replacement for Judas Iscariot, the lot falling on Matthias.
The rest of the time they waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. No time limit had been given, the instruction was simple - wait.
With this gospel reading occurring during this decade of days, we can see how important Peter's resolute commitment to Christ really was. It would be easy to leave early for fear of the persecution that they were already experiencing. It would also be easy to leave simply because nothing has happened.
Today would be the eighth day of tarrying and for what? They really had no clue what being "baptized with the Holy Spirit" would be like. Maybe it had already happened. Who knows?
Follow Me to Your Baptism in the Holy Spirit
In just a few days we will be celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. What now is commemorated as the birthday of the Church and the coming of the Holy Spirit was previously a major Jewish feast - Shavuot, which took place 50 days after Passover.
A celebration of the early harvest as well as the giving of the Law of Moses, Pentecost was a type and shadow of what was to come after Christ's ascension. Peter and the rest of the disciples knew the feast was coming but had no idea God had a plan for it that particular year.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the twelve and endued them with power, Peter's "phileo" became "agape" in an instant. Those watching were immediately engaged by the Apostle, whose stirring message brought three thousand into the Church.
Peter's agape not only put him out front but became a holy magnet of love to those who were, as Jesus once said, "harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd." From that day on things were different.
Follow Me to Your Chair
We are now in our second millennium following Pentecost. Peter's agape still is alive in the Church today through his successor, our Holy Father, the clergy and the faithful who continue to offer themselves to him. We are all united to Christ and His Body on Earth through the Chair of St. Peter.
It is easy today for us to also over-promise and under-deliver, when it comes to our faith. During Lent some of us made great declarations regarding spiritual formation we would add to our lives, abstinences we would continue or mortifications we would undertake.
During Easter we may be chafing under the weight of these unfulfilled promises. Here, as we also await the great Feast of Pentecost, let us be assured that our Lord's third call to us is the same as to St. Peter - "Do you 'phileo' me?"
When we say "Yes, Lord, we 'phileo' you, we are placing ourselves honestly before the One who can do "exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or think, according to the power that is at work in us." With the grace of God through His Sacraments and presence of the Holy Spirit, we can go on to do amazing things for the Lord.
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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