I “warned” you last weekend that, as we are in the Year of Mercy, we had already received a lot of input on the theme of “divine mercy” and we would continue to do so!! With a theme as rich as the “mercy of God,” it provides a prism through which one can look at all the writings in the gospels and see the same theme portrayed over and over again.
This is true of this weekend’s gospel also. It is a vivid portrayal of what mercy means: the forgiveness of sins which we don’t deserve, but which comes to us anyway, because of God’s infinite goodness, shown us in his Son, Jesus.
To begin with, we should note that Peter’s determination to go fishing is really his way of saying “I am quitting. I can’t do this anymore. It is too hard, Jesus, to be your disciple.” You understand that he knows by now that Jesus has risen from the dead, and he should be really happy. But he cannot get past the fact that he denied Jesus three times in his Master’s time of greatest need, after promising that he would forever be faithful. So, disgusted with himself, he goes back to the only livelihood he has ever known: that of fishing. You note also that the other disciples follow him, back to fishing and are also “running away” from Jesus’ call on their lives. The newly- born Church of Jesus seems to be falling apart before it even properly gets going!! And what happens when Peter goes fishing? He fails again, they catch no fish. Peter and the other disciples are being told that the door to the past is closed to them. There is no going back. So they are stuck, stuck between a future they feel unworthy of entering into, and a past that they can no longer return to.
And precisely at that moment when they are most forlorn, helpless and hopeless, Jesus comes to them, at daybreak, after the night of suffering and despair, and renews his call on their lives, by performing precisely the same miracle, of the huge catch of fish, as he did when he first called Peter to follow him (see Luke’s gospel, chapter 5). Now Peter jumps into the water and swims towards Jesus, no longer running away from him, but towards him. When the disciples reach the shore, they see that Jesus has already prepared a meal for them, which is his way of saying to them without words, “It’s ok, we are reconciled, I am not holding your sins of betraying and denying and running away from me against you.” The meal is a form of eucharist, the sacrament of mercy and reconciliation.
But there is more. The gospel story returns to Peter and his plight. Jesus, in a magnificent display of mercy and compassion, takes Peter through what we would call ministry for “inner healing” or “the healing of memories.” By having Peter declare his love three times for Jesus, Peter is cancelling out his three-fold denial. And with each affirmation, Jesus repeats and even enhances his charge to Peter to be the leader of his Church.
You see? It is all about mercy, mercy, mercy. And it is given to us this weekend, so that, if we feel we have failed as a disciple of Jesus, but do not know what else to do, or where else to go, Jesus is wanting to come into our lives again and heal and forgive us, and renew his call on our lives. Are we ready to believe, and accept his offer of mercy, and then go and show that mercy to others?