Evangelist John the Theologian tells us about the third appearance of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples.
Seven, including Peter, went fishing, and caught nothing that night. The following morning the Lord appeared to them on the shore, and ordered them to cast the nets again. This time they caught plenty of fish. When they came ashore, food cooked on a fire was waiting for them. During the meal, the Lord asked Peter three times if he loved Him.
Reading this passage, one cannot but recall another episode from the life of Peter. In that episode, there was also a fire, except it had been lit by the Lord's enemies. The Lord Himself was also there, only He was then facing trial and torture prior to His resurrection. St John the Theologian was near Peter then, as he is now. He led him into the courtyard of the high priest. Even the three questions asked by the enemies of Jesus were essentially the same. However, Peter then denied his Lord three times, claiming that he did not even know who that Man was. Now, he confesses his love for Him three times. Clearly, the three questions that the Lord asks Peter now are in the most direct connection with those other three. This time, Christ comes especially for Peter, just as His previous appearance was for Thomas. Peter's previous three answers have been lying on his shoulders as a heavy burden, and the Lord finally comes to relieve his guilty conscience.
The Lord allows only a few disciples to be present. Although he speaks in front of them, they hardly know what it is about, just as those who surrounded Peter in the garden did not know the truth. Only John the Theologian knows, and the Lord chooses to ask Peter in his presence, since he alone was a witness to his renunciation.
When you believe someone, you only ask once. The Lord asks Peter three times; moreover, he poses his questions in an unusual way. First, He asks how strong Peter's love for him was, "Simon, son of Jonah! Do you love me more than they do?" The second, and the third time, He asks in general, “Do you love Me?” Back in the garden of the high priest, Peter was not believed, and with each repeated question, he became more and more afraid. After the third time, he probably thought that they were about to start beating and crucifying him.
This time, it is very much the same. With each question, the path narrows more and more for Peter, so after the third time he is sad. Peter realises that the Lord knows everything. He must be wondering why the Lord is asking him the same question for the third time. Does He not trust Himself?
In the meantime, the path narrows even more. "Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)" When someone girds you, you move your arms out of the way, stretching them to the sides, as on a cross. It looks like despite Peter's previous fear of crucifixion he is given the same promise. The Lord raises Peter and leads him back on the narrow path from which he then deviated. He says to Peter, "Feed my sheep" and "follow me".
The Church honours Peter as the supreme Apostle. However, it is not the bestowing of supremacy that we see here. To avoid any doubt about this, the following lines of the Gospel say, "Peter turned and saw" [John the Theologian] "following them; [...] he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “[...] what is that to you? Follow me!”" The Lord is telling Peter to focus on himself rather than look at others.
This Gospel is read on Saturday, on the eve of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Disciples of Christ. Prior to our own Pentecost, before each of us was baptized and received the grace of the Holy Spirit, we also answered the priest's questions three times: “Do you deny Satan, and all his works, and all his angels, and all his service, and all his pride”? Do you deny your godless, apostate past? And then, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” Like a bride to a groom, so that you can be together always, everywhere and in everything? The painful question sounds three times, as if they do not hear or believe you. This is done to test your determination, to let you experience the fear of not being heard or accepted. After baptism, they put a cross on you. When the time comes, you too will "stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." Only after this, through the anointing with holy chrism with the words: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen,” the seed of the Holy Spirit becomes sown into you.
Now we must follow Christ without looking back and regardless of what others do.
Let us remember our own renunciations and vows. Let us live them through once again, so that tomorrow the grace of the Holy Spirit may touch us more strongly and more vividly.
Archpriest Vyacheslav Reznikov.
Source: The Full Cycle of Sermons on the Daily Apostolic and Gospel Readings
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