Who Am I Really? Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter
The word, Hashem in Hebrew means “The Name.” It’s more than the personal identifier that was given to you by your parents. It encompasses your past, present and future; your gifts, talents, and charisms. It involves your hopes, your dreams, your failures, what you have accomplished and will accomplish. It includes your soul, your spirit and all that God was thinking about you when he ”knit you in your mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)
Here’s a poem that speaks to the idea of Hashem:
“None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord (Gospel)
But did they know who they were?
Like gold hidden deep in the earth, so dwells Emptiness deep in our souls
..some times denied
Yet the Presence, the simultaneous Empty/Fullness is there —
.. waiting to be found, discovered, claimed, believed in… regardless the cost, the labor.
Jesus knew who Peter was. Jesus knew what Peter’s assignment was to be. Jesus knew the tremendous, rewarding, fulfilling, important leadership role that he had for Peter. It was a combination of Rick Warren/Billy Graham combined with Warner Buffett/Bill Gates. But Peter didn’t know this. Peter didn’t get it. Father Greg Friedman, OFM. Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land says that, “Around one fire Peter denied Jesus three times. He lost his identity. Around another fire Jesus needs to ask about Peter’s love – 3 times. Why? To restore that identity once again!
But the conversation that Jesus wants to have with you deals with more than the job. It’s more than the assignment. It’s more than your vocation or your spouse our your kids. It’s about a relationship and a question. Jesus looks at your face and addresses you by your name. “Do you love me more than these?” These people, this job, these hobbies, this financial security, this husband/boyfriend, this wife/girlfriend, these kids I gave to you…
“Do you love me more than these?”
This is especially important to the parents of the children receiving First Holy Communion. This year, during school Confessions, I was quite surprised how often I heard children confess that they “Needed to get to Mass more often.” I wanted to tell them that they weren’t culpable for that unless they lived within walking distance to the church or had a driver’s license. The one who really needed to confess that were the parents. If the children aren’t here next week or the week after, the children could legitimately ask, “Do you love me more than these?” More than the exclusive sports programs? More than the top end schools and colleges? More than the boy- or girlfriends you want to set me up with who are “acceptable” to you and your friends and neighbors? More than the expensive clothes and training shoes and tutoring programs? More than these? Who am I? Why was I born? Why was I put on this earth? The one person who can answer these questions better than anyone is the same person who created me. Why aren’t we getting together with him on a regular basis?
Jesus’ first question to Peter is, “Do you love me with an all-encompassing, totally sacrificial, ready to die for my kind of love?” Peter hedges. He saw the crucifixion. He’s not ready for that. so he says, “Well, I like you.”
Jesus repeats it. “Let me ask you again. Do you love me with that love where – as you said to me the other day – you are ‘willing to lay down your life for me?” Pentecost hasn’t happened. The Holy Spirit hasn’t come upon Peter and the others yet. Peter is still not ready to commit. “I like you. I really do. I like you a lot.”
Jesus’ third question to Peter is, “Really? Are you sure? Forget love. Do you even like me? Are you sure that you can really commit to even that?” This is the reason Peter was hurt.
Jesuit Father John Foley, S.J. takes us through an Ignatian exercise about this passage:
Christ asks, you, “Do you love me?”
What will you say? Answer the Lord when you are ready, even if it isn’t perfect. Put it into words. Don’t go further till you have done this.
When he hears your response, listen to him say to you, “feed my lambs.
Phew. Thank God the trial is over and you don’t have to deal with any more questions like that.
But then he asks you again, by your name, “do you love me?”
How would such a repeated question affect you? Peter came emotionally unglued. Our hearts go out to him. But you’ve been asked a second time also! What is your answer now?
After your answer, Jesus replies, “tend my sheep.”
Then, yet again, not just twice but a third time, he asks the tender, unnerving question—before you have had time to settle your mind and heart.
“Do you love me?”
Does he suspect that you really do not love him? Consider your daily attitude toward Jesus and toward God. Do not say your answer lightly. Offer it quietly in prayer to Jesus, or out loud if you wish. Take your time. Pay attention to how it feels when you say it.
Lord, you know everything, you know that I want to love you, but also that I want to have a good life too. You see the fear and the running away and the distraction that I live by—are you going to condemn me for them? I want to love you but … ”
Jesus answers, “Feed my lambs.”
He’s not looking for the perfect answer. You aren’t capable of it. And it doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus. he ignores your very imperfect answer, just like he ignored Peter’s response. He simply says, “Go out. Feed my people. Just get started. I’ll be there. You’ll get it over time. I’ll be working with you on it.” We who are sinful are to be part of Jesus’ mission. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be forgiven.
Feed the lambs.
Father John Kavanaugh, S.J. writes: “I could think of scores of questions Christ might have put to Peter. Do you promise never to betray me again? Will you finally be more modest in your claims? Do you now, at long last, after having denied me, amend your life? Will you please modulate your vaunted professions of faith? Now, do you see why I had to wash your feet?” He could have really hammered Peter for his failures. Understand that Jesus does not ignore them. He makes Peter face them. And then what does Jesus do with imperfect and failure? He produces abundance. The Gospel hints at two failures: the fishermen coming back with no fish, Peter’s denial of Jesus before his death. Yet these failures became occasions for Jesus’ gift of abundance: a large catch of fish, a fuller love that would “glorify God.” Faithful discipleship is not measured by the absence of failure, but by openness to obeying new commands from Jesus, recognition of God’s abundant gifts, and willingness to grow into new life.”
Fr. Kavanaugh continues: “This God-made-flesh is interested in one thing, the heart and face of the one before him. The gift of a person, even tarnished, so like unto glory, was the only image of God that God allowed. The human “yes.” The affirmation uttered in all its hurt and frailty. The turning of the spirit that won back God’s very heart to the Israelites time and time again.
Like Mother Teresa once said, “God doesn’t want your success. He only wants your faithfulness. Come and meet that God again next week.