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SHEPHERDSHIP AS RESPONSIBILITY

Read­ing Time: 5 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Acts 5:27–32.40b-41; Rev 5:11–14; John 21:1–19)

The more gen­er­ous we are, the more joy­ous we become. The more cooper­at­ive we are, the more valu­able we become. The more enthu­si­ast­ic we are, the more pro­duct­ive we become. The more serving we are, the more pros­per­ous we become” (W. A. Ward).

Introduction

Accord­ing to the litur­gic­al arrange­ment of the Cath­ol­ic Church, Sunday read­ings for Cycle C are nor­mally taken from the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke. How­ever, the Gos­pel read­ings for the Paschal sea­son are taken from the Gos­pel accord­ing to John. Why? Prob­ably, John has a bet­ter doc­u­ment­a­tion of the post-resur­rec­tion account. This Sunday Gos­pel is one of the post-Resur­rec­tion appear­ances repor­ted by John. In the Gos­pel accord­ing to John, we read that the first to wit­ness the appear­ance of Jesus is Mary of Mag­dala, fol­lowed by the dis­ciples and finally, to Thomas and the oth­er dis­ciples again. After these post-resur­rec­tion appear­ances, the Fourth Gos­pel con­cludes with the fol­low­ing words “Jesus did many oth­er signs in the pres­ence of his dis­ciples, which are not writ­ten in this book. But these are writ­ten so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Mes­si­ah, the Son of God, and that through believ­ing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31). With these words, one would have expec­ted that the Gos­pel con­cludes here. But instead of con­clud­ing, there fol­lows anoth­er chapter. Why? The con­sequence is that many schol­ars are of the opin­ion that the entire John chapter 21 is an addi­tion by unknown author to the ori­gin­al text of John. Why then is this Sunday Gos­pel read­ing from this addi­tion? The Church reflects on this read­ing and in fact, on the entire chapter for its rich theo­lo­gic­al and pas­tor­al contents.

For the third time, Jesus appears to his dis­ciples since after his vic­tory over death and evil (cf. John 21:14). In the read­ing of last Sunday, he appeared twice and this Sunday, he appears again. These appear­ances are meant to for­ti­fy the dis­ciples for the task ahead. Without wast­ing time, let us go imme­di­ately to the con­ver­sa­tion between Jesus and Peter. For three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him more than oth­ers, and for three times, Peter con­fesses and affirms his pure love for Jesus. Some people won­der why Jesus should ask Peter the same ques­tion three times. Even Peter him­self also wondered and even got irrit­ated when for the third time, Jesus repeated the same ques­tion. Let me briefly give three reas­ons why Jesus inter­rog­ated Peter three times.

First reason

The first reas­on has to do with dis­agree­ment on the choice of words. Lan­guage it is said, is power. The use of wrong lan­guage can cause ser­i­ous dis­pute among people and nations. In Greek, there are at least four dif­fer­ent words for love. Two of these four words are used in the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment. Unfor­tu­nately, both words are trans­lated in Eng­lish with one single word – love. For two times, Jesus used agapaō but Peter answered with fileō. Then, in the third time, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and used fileō and Peter replied with the same fileō. In the vari­ous trans­la­tions, it is dif­fi­cult to note this dif­fer­ence because both agapaō and fileō are trans­lated as love. It is inter­est­ing to note how Jesus used the same word with Peter. This means that God wants us to come before him in our nat­ur­al­ness, without pre­tence and without super­fi­ci­al­ity. We should learn to approach God the way we are and allow God to amend us if necessary.

Second reason

Who­ever reads or has read with atten­tion the entire Gos­pel accord­ing to John, must have under­stood the author’s inten­tion and will cer­tainly remem­ber that par­tic­u­lar incid­ence dur­ing Jesus (unjust) tri­al con­cern­ing Peter’s triple negation/denial (cf. John 18:17.25–27). For good three times, Peter was called to the wit­ness bench to declare if he knew Jesus and if he was among his dis­ciples, and for three times, Peter denied know­ing Jesus and being his dis­ciple. The scope of the con­ver­sa­tion between Jesus and Peter in this Sunday Gos­pel read­ing is also inten­ded as a triple cor­rec­tion and rehab­il­it­a­tion of that triple neg­a­tion in John 18. Jesus’ ques­tion to Peter (do you prefer or love me?) is a fun­da­ment­al ques­tion. Peter is inter­rog­ated by Jesus on an essen­tial point on which he failed pre­vi­ously. Peter should now demon­strate that his love for Jesus sur­passes every oth­er desire. That is, his pref­er­ence for Jesus is great­er than every oth­er interest, per­son or thing includ­ing the fear of los­ing his life. Only when this is clearly proved will Peter be able to assume the role of a good shep­herd who ded­ic­ates his entire life for the life and care of the sheep.

With his triple neg­a­tion in John 18 (cf. John 13:38), Peter demon­strated that his affirm­a­tion in John 13:37 was nev­er at all fruit of evan­gel­ic­al con­vic­tion but prob­ably, an emo­tion­al or com­mo­tion­al act. Not will­ing to risk again and not want­ing to have any­thing do with a per­son who claims to be will­ing but who, when faced with real­ity, denies everything and runs away, Jesus this time wants a sure proof on the part of Peter. Jesus wants facts not mere words. Jesus pre­tends a cor­res­pond­ence between say­ing and doing, between words and con­crete facts, and Peter must prove this even to the point of being grieved (cf. Peter was grieved that for the third time Jesus asked him: “do you love/wish me well?” in John 21:17). The triple ques­tion-answer there­fore, is an oppor­tun­ity offered to Peter to cor­rect his grave error and assume his respons­ib­il­ity of being a faith­ful, involved, ded­ic­ated, con­vinced and con­vin­cing dis­ciple. The same thing is expec­ted from all of us.

Third reason

The third reas­on which I wish to under­line is the sig­ni­fic­ance of the num­ber 3. The num­ber 3 is the sym­bol of cube – the simplest form of a sol­id fig­ure. In the Bible, 3 rep­res­ents that which is sol­id, true, sub­stan­tial, com­plete and whole. For example, there are three divi­sions of time: past, present and future; yes­ter­day, today and tomor­row. Three is one of the four per­fect num­bers and it sig­ni­fies the Divine Per­fec­tion. The triple neg­a­tion of Peter sym­bol­izes the highest level of neg­a­tion. In the same man­ner, his triple answer to Jesus’ triple inter­rog­a­tion, rep­res­ents the full­ness of his wit­ness, his full affirm­a­tion and read­i­ness to give pref­er­ence to Jesus and there­fore, to the truth even when this hurts.

Shepherdship as responsibility

When finally, Peter declared his read­i­ness to bear wit­ness to Gos­pel, Jesus asked him to tend/feed his flock (cf. John 21:17). Jesus feed­ing the dis­ciples with fish is an allu­sion to the Holy Euchar­ist. As he fed them, so should Peter and oth­er shep­herds feed the flock entrus­ted unto them. by feed­ing is inten­ded spir­itu­al and mater­i­al but espe­cially, spir­itu­al. Feed­ing the people mater­i­ally while we feed them with wrong and per­son­al teach­ings and doc­trines is wicked­ness and spir­itu­al fraud. Shep­herd­ing is great respons­ib­il­ity. And who­ever is not ready for such respons­ib­il­ity should make it known. This is why Jesus wanted Peter to declare his read­i­ness to assume the respons­ib­il­ity of shep­herd­ing the flock of God.

Conclusion

As Peter, any­body who pro­fesses to be a Chris­ti­an is called to fully and con­cretely rein­force his/her decision to be a dis­ciple of Jesus and con­sequently, of the Gos­pel. Ima­gine Jesus ask­ing you this moment: Do you love me more than everything and every oth­er per­son? What is your answer? Jesus com­mands Peter to feed his sheep. The implic­a­tion is that the sheep are dying and the shep­herd in some sense must be held respons­ible. Feed my sheep-tend my sheep-feed my sheep is a lead­ers’ manu­al on how to trans­form uto­pi­an lead­ers to ser­vant lead­ers. It is a call to ser­vice. By inter­rog­at­ing Peter three times, Jesus wanted him to be con­vinced and com­mit­ted in his voca­tion and in his faith. We also must be con­vinced and com­mit­ted in our vari­ous voca­tions and assign­ments. After deny­ing Jesus and his faith, Jesus offered Peter the oppor­tun­ity to reverse his error. In like man­ner, we too deny God and we deny our faith and God offers us the oppor­tun­ity to cor­rect our mis­take and reaf­firm our com­mit­ment, con­vic­tion and belief. Every Chris­ti­an has some sheep to feed. How do you feed yours? God bless you and happy Sunday. Sha­lom!

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