Note: Fr. Treloar’s column was incorrectly published in the print edition with the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday). His column focuses on the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter.
This Sunday’s readings use various names to describe Jesus and the church’s early proclamation concerning the resurrected Lord. In Acts, the apostles rejoice that they suffer because of the name, “Jesus” or the Messiah who acts to save his people. In Revelation, Jesus becomes the Lamb who was slain. Finally, in John, Jesus hosts a breakfast and shepherds his flock. Each description captures a different aspect of the resurrection event. The common note, however, is the manifest love the disciples had for the risen Lord.
Rather than a soupy romantic love such as we find in movies, the love of the Lord for his disciples and the disciples for the Lord is robust and life-giving. This kind of love is most evident in Jesus’s claim to love his sheep. When we gaze upon the scene after Jesus and the disciples have breakfast, we see them seated on the seashore in the midst of pleasant conversation as so often happens at the end of a good meal. Then Jesus turns to Peter and asks, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.” Variations of this interchange occur twice more during the course of the conversation. Jesus concludes the exchange with, “Follow me.”
Two insights offered by St. Ignatius of Loyola prior to the final meditation of his Spiritual Exercises helps us understand the nature of the love of Jesus for his disciples and the disciples for Jesus. St. Ignatius observes that love ought to show itself in deeds rather than in mere words and that love consists in the mutual sharing of goods. In the context of our Gospel story, Peter manifests his love for the Lord by feeding the lambs and sheep of the flock. The Lord already has manifested his love for Peter by becoming the Lamb who was slain. Peter gives his life in service of the Lord by following Jesus. Both manifest their love for the other by deeds and not simply words. Jesus shares his resurrection and Peter shares his life by following the Lord.
It is quite common for people to take Peter’s triple manifestation of love as atonement for his triple denial of Jesus. There is, however, a great deal more to the give and take, for this exchange is a mutual sharing of goods between those who love one another culminating in deeds and not mere words. In marriages that work we see this pattern of deeds and sharing. In the priestly vocation and in religious life there is a similar arrangement. In any other state of life whatsoever that moves beyond egoism to deeds and mutual sharing we find the same relationship as we see in Jesus and Peter.
Jesuit Fr. Jack Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.