“If only we let ourselves be led by Jesus’ love every moment of our lives, we will experience amazing things.”
In the Gospel this Sunday, the Third Day of Easter, Jesus appears to seven of his disciples at the seashore. They have been fishing without any luck. Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
In 2019, when Pope Francis delivered his homily during the Holy Mass in Sofia, Bulgaria, he took the occasion to offer his reflections on this Scriptural reading taken from the Gospel of John about this particular episode. According to Francis, the Gospel reminds us of three amazing things that are part of our lives as disciples: God calls, God surprises, God loves.
Referring to the event narrated in the Gospel reading, Pope Francis said that Peter , after the experience of seeing the Master die and hearing news of his resurrection, goes back to his former life. He tells the others disciples, “I am going fishing”. And they follow. To Francis, this is a step backwards. The weight of suffering, disappointment, and of betrayal had become like a stone blocking the hearts of the disciples. They were still burdened with pain and guilt, and the good news of the resurrection had not taken root in their hearts.
How many times have we, by the grace of God, made a resolve to follow Jesus but then is tempted to return to our old habits, often sinful selves, after we encounter obstacles along the way, when we feel that God is never present in our struggles or has abandoned us to fend for ourselves. To Francis, the temptation to return to the way things were before is like Peter’s nets which tempts nostalgia for the past. In the face of failure, hurt, or even the fact that at times things do not go the way we want, there always comes a subtle and dangerous temptation to become disheartened and to give up.
But as the Gospel tells us, at the very moment of Peter’s failure, Jesus appears, patiently comes to him and calls him “Simon” – the name Peter received when he was first called. The Lord does not wait for perfect situations or frames of mind: he creates them. He does not expect to encounter people without problems, disappointments, without sins or limitations. He himself confronted sin and disappointment in order to encourage all men and women to persevere.
The Gospel shows us that the Lord never tires of calling us. His is the power of a Love that overturns every expectation and is always ready to start anew. In Jesus, God always offers us another chance.
God is full of surprises. He invites us not only to be surprised, but also to do surprising things. The Lord calls the disciples and, seeing them with empty nets, he tells them to do something odd: to fish by day, something quite out of the ordinary on that lake. He revives their trust by urging them once more to take a risk, not to give up on anyone or anything. He is the Lord of surprises, who breaks down paralyzing barriers by filling us with the courage needed to overcome the suspicion, mistrust and fear that so often lurk behind the mindset that says, “We have always done things this way”. God surprises us whenever he calls and asks us to put out into the sea of history not only with our nets, but with our very selves.
Surely, today in the Philippines, one week before a really important election, if we listen very carefully with our hearts, we will notice that God speaks to us in the most unexpected ways, paths that we ourselves, if left to our own devices, would not take. But then again, if we only open our hearts and minds, and allow the spirit of God to guide us we learn that He does not disappoint.
God calls and God surprises, because God loves. Love is his language, according to Pope Francis.
He asks Peter: “Do you love me?” And Peter says yes; after spending so much time with Jesus, he now understands that to love means to stop putting himself at the centre. Peter recognizes his weakness; he realizes that he cannot make progress on his own. And he takes his stand on the Lord and on the strength of his love, to the very end.
If only we let ourselves be led by Jesus’ love every moment of our lives, we will experience amazing things just as Peter and the other disciples did when they encountered Jesus on the shore of Galilee. This is asked of us as individuals, as family, and yes as a nation.
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