Since the Easter Vigil we’ve been reading the resurrection accounts from the four gospels. Mark’s account at the Vigil takes us to the tomb where three women go “very early, when the sun had arisen.” An angel brilliant in white tells them “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’”
Today John’s Gospel takes us to Galilee with Peter and his disciples. It’s the third time Jesus appeared to them, John’s Gospel says, a week after Good Friday. Tradition says it took place at Tabgha, a stretch of wooded land just south of Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Fresh water from seven springs flow into the lake there.
It was an obvious place for fishermen to come for water or to eat after a night’s fishing. Peter and the others returned to Galilee after that first Easter and went fishing, John’s gospel says. ( John 21) An ancient church marks the spot at Tabgha; it’s a likely place.
They caught nothing through the night, but at dawn they heard a call from the shore to cast out their nets again.“… Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Then, they caught a large catch of fish. Jesus called from the shore to come eat some fish at a fire he had started; he gave them bread and some fish to eat and revealed himself to them.
Peter has a big role in this story. After they ate, Jesus took him aside and asks him three times “Do you love me?”
Three times the apostle who cursed and swore he did not know him, three times he answers “Yes, I do. I love you.” And Jesus tells him “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”
Peter isn’t alone here. The other disciples and all of us receive that same gift of mercy.
There’s a statue at Tabgha in memory of that beautiful meeting of mercy between Peter and Jesus. No scolding words,. No “I told you so.” No warning, “You do that again and …” No demotion.
Rather, Jesus gives Peter new responsibility.“Feed my lambs” he says. God’s mercy does not take away, but gives more. The disciples look again at what happened in Galilee and see more than they saw before. They look again at what Jesus did, what he said and promised. They will proclaim it to others, to all nations, as they are told by Jesus to do.
A reading in our liturgy from the Acts of the Apostles accompanies this reading from John’s Gospel, offering an example of Peter’s address to the people in Jerusalem after Pentecost, fearlessly proclaiming the good news he has heard. We can hear in his words something of what he learned personally on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He echoes God’s forgiving love spoken to him. Now he proclaims God ’s forgiveness to others.
I’ll leave you with some pictures of the beautiful place recalled today on the Friday of Easter. The previous Friday Jesus promised the thief at his side forgiveness and a place in his kingdom. Today, the Risen Jesus brings Peter, the disciples, and us, the promise of mercy and a call to follow him.