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3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER (Cycle C)

Readings:
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Psalms 30:2, 4-6, 11-12a, 13b
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Following the Savior
The theme of this week's readings is following in the footsteps of the Savior.  In the First Reading the Apostles, who were once fearful and scattered, are now fearless and united in their commitment to their Savior when facing the same Law court that condemned Jesus to death.  Empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they will not be intimidated, and they joyfully give their testimony of the risen Messiah.

In the Psalm reading, the psalmist praises God for saving him and not abandoning him to the grave.  Today's Liturgy puts the Responsorial Psalm into the mouth of Jesus, who thanks God the Father for raising Him from death and for not abandoning Him to Sheol, the abode of the dead into which Jesus descended after His physical death to redeem the souls imprisoned there (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6).  In this context the psalm reveals its prophetic meaning in proclaiming what God did when He resurrected Jesus in glory and victory over death, and what He will also do for us. 

In the Gospel Reading seven of the Apostles, including St. Peter, meet Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) where He cooks breakfast for them over a charcoal fire, and He eats with them to show that He is truly risen in both body and spirit.  Afterward Peter, who had once denied Jesus three times by a charcoal fire, is now forgiven three times by Christ and is commissioned once again to feed and lead both the teaching authority and the children of the Church (the sheep and the lambs).

After these events,  the Apostles' followed in the footsteps of Jesus as they shared their experience of the living Christ, fearlessly preaching the Gospel of salvation and performing miracles in His name despite the possibility of persecution and martyrdom.  The promised reward of their obedience in following Christ will be what St. John witnessed in the Second Reading when he had a vision of the resurrected and glorified Christ in the heavenly Sanctuary.

The First Reading Acts 5:27-32, 40-41 ~ Boldly Preaching in the Name of Jesus
27 When the captain and the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them.  28 "We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name?  Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man's blood upon us."  29 But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, "We must obey God rather than men.  30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.  31 God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.  32 We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him" ... 40 The Sanhedrin ordered the Apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.  41 So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

When Jesus was with His disciples and Apostles, He warned them that they would be persecuted as He was persecuted, hated as he was hated, suffer as He suffered, and some of them would be martyred as He was martyred (Mt 10:16-23; Mk 13:9-13; Lk 21:12-19; Jn 15:18-20; 16:1-4).  In this reading the Apostles experience for the first time the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy in their persecution by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court in Jerusalem.  It is the same court that condemned Jesus to death.  The Apostles have been teaching daily in the Temple that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the Prophets, and that He is resurrrected from the dead. They are arrested and the Sanhedrin forbids them to continue teaching that Jesus is the Messiah.  Instead of submitting to the Sanhedrin's attempt to discourage them, the Apostles courageously profess Christ and their divine call (Acts 5:2b-32).  In response to their defiance, the members of the Sanhedrin ordered for the Apostles to be beaten, and then they released the Apostles after warning them to cease giving their testimony of Christ (Acts 5:40).  However, instead of being intimidated, the Apostles rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 5:41).

Responsorial Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-12a, 13b
The response is: "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me." Or "Alleluia" ("alleluia" is Latin for the Hebrew "Halleluyah," which means "Praise God Yahweh."

I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
Response
5 Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.  6 For his anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will.  At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.
Response
11 Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me; O LORD, be my helper.  12 You changed my mourning into dancing; O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
Response

Psalm 30 is a prayer consisting of four stanzas that contain a promise to praise Yahweh for coming to the aid of the psalmist in his distress.  The psalmist begins by personally praising God and then extends an invitation to the faithful to join him in praising the Lord (verses 2 and 5).  In verse 6 the psalmist reminds us that God's anger and His divine judgment are meant to be redemptive and to bring repentance and rejoicing in renewed communion with the Almighty.  "Weeping" and "mourning," the expressions of penance, are in contrast to "rejoicing" and "dancing" in God's divine presence when our sins are forgiven and fellowship with God is restored (verses 6 and 11).  The psalm concludes with the psalmist's gratitude for his salvation by declaring that he will continue to give thanks to the Lord forever (verses 11-12).

Today's Liturgy puts the Responsorial Psalm into the mouth of Jesus, who thanks God the Father for His resurrection and for not abandoning Him to Sheol, the abode of the dead into which Jesus descended after His physical death to redeem the souls imprisoned there (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6).  In this context the psalm reveals its prophetic meaning in proclaiming what God did when He resurrected Jesus in victory after He conquered death, and what God will also do for us. 

In the psalm we can also rejoice as disciples of the Lord rejoiced in the First Reading.  We acknowledge Jesus as our defender and Savior.  Even if we suffer, either because of sin in the world or because of persecution in defending Christ, we have confidence that our Lord will not abandon us to the grave.  Instead, our mourning will be turned into gladness ("dancing" in verse 12 which is a sign of joy) when we enter into the heavenly Kingdom. 

The Second Reading Revelation 5:11-14 ~ St. John's Vision in the Heavenly Sanctuary
11 I, [John]*, looked and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  They were countless in number, 12 and they cried out in a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing."  13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: "To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever."  14 The four living creatures answered, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped. 
* The name "John" is not in the Greek text but added to place the passage in context; see IBGE, vol. IV, page 666.

The basis of the Apostles' joy in the First Reading was their belief in the redemptive value of suffering for Christ.  They believed if they were counted worthy to suffer with Christ that they will also be counted worthy to be resurrected to glory as He was raised (Rom 8:17-18), and that they will stand in heaven before the "Lamb that was slain."  This is the vision of St. John in the Second Reading.  This reading gives us a glimpse of the Christian's reward for confessing Christ no matter what the personal cost.  St. John, who was suffering for Christ in exile on the island of Patmos off the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey), was rewarded by a vision of the heavenly Sanctuary and the liturgy of the Saints as they offered worship and praise around the throne of God Almighty and the Lamb—Christ Jesus, who is both the sacrificial victim (Rev 5:6) and the High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary (Heb 7:26-27).

The Gospel Reading John 21:1-19 ~ The Resurrected Jesus Meets the Apostles on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee
At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  He revealed himself in this way.  2 Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples.  3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing."  They said to him, "We also will come with you."  So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  4 When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  5 Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?"  They answered him, "No."  6 So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something."  So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.  7 So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.  8 The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with them fish.  9 When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.  10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught."  11 So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.  Even though they were so many, the net was not torn.  12 Jesus said to them, "Come have breakfast."  And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord.  13 Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.  14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.  15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  He said to him, "Feed my lambs."  16 He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  He said to him, "Tend my sheep."  17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."  Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.  18 Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."  19 He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.  And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

The setting of the Gospel reading is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (also known by its Roman name as the Sea of Tiberias).  It is the same place where the Apostles were first called by Jesus to leave their old lives behind and to follow Him to become "fishers of men" (Mt 4:18-22).  They have returned to the Galilee because they were told to meet Jesus there after His resurrection (Mt 28:7, 10, 16; Mk 14:28; 16:7).  After waiting a long time, they decided to go fishing (verse 3).  It was a chance for them to compare the old life they had left behind for the mission that would be their future in proclaiming the universal Kingdom of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15; Lk 24:47). 

Some scholars interpret the action of returning to their old occupation by Peter and the others as an indication that these men were abandoning the path they had taken on the shores of this same lake three years earlier.  They suggest that the Apostles were returning to their old way of life, apparently unaware of what Jesus' commission meant when He spoke to them in the Upper Room on Resurrection Sunday.  Yet they must have known, not only because of the miracle of the Resurrection event but from the knowledge they received through Jesus' visitations after His Resurrection and the spiritual gifts He gave them: the gift of the effusing of His spirit, the gift of His power and authority to forgive or bind sin (Jn 20:21-23), and the opening of their minds and hearts to the prophetic passages of the Old Testament (Lk 24:44-49).  This knowledge is what called them in obedience and faith to travel to the Galilee to meet with Him where He first called them to discipleship. 

Perhaps they went fishing because they had been waiting all day for Jesus, and even though it was now night they were all too anxious to sleep.  If this was the case, it makes sense that Peter, always a man of action, might decide to be proactive while they continued to wait on the Lord by fishing, just as they had fished that last night before Jesus called them to be "fishers of men" at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 5:5).  Or perhaps this episode is meant to show that they still had a choice either to take up their old way of life or to choose to follow Jesus.

That Peter and the Zebedee brothers still owned their own fishing boats points to the fact that these men who were not formally educated in the Law of the Old Covenant were by no means poor.  They had been absent from the fishing business for three years, and yet they still had their fishing business to come back to if they desired to take up their old profession.  St. John also includes the information that it was night when they went fishing (Jn 21:3).  This is an accurate historical detail.  Night fishing is still a custom of fisherman on the Sea of Galilee today.  At night the fish are attracted to the phosphorus glow of the algae on the water's surface, and fish caught at night are fresher for sale in the morning. 

John 21:5-6 ~ When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  5 Jesus said to them, "Children*, have you caught anything to eat?"  They answered him, "No."  6 So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something."  So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. 
* the literal translation of this word in the Greek is paidia.  It is more literally translated "boys" or "lads," a friendly, casual greeting (IBGE, vol. IV, page 317).

The great catch of fish recalls the event three years earlier with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when Peter, Andrew, James, and John had been fishing all night without catching any fish (Mk 1:16-20; Lk 5:1-5).  In that encounter, Jesus also told them to cast their nets again, and when they did recast their nets the number of fish was so great they needed two boats to bring in the catch as the nets began to tear.  At that point Peter, recognizing what was an act of God, confessed his sins and called Jesus "Lord" (Lk 5:6-11).

John 21:7-8 ~  So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."  When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.  8 The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards*, dragging the net with them fish.    ["... about a hundred yards*" is literally 200 cubits].
Suddenly, the seven disciples (Peter, John and James Zebedee, Thomas, Nathanael and two others) saw Jesus on the shore.  He had prepared a charcoal fire and was cooking fish for them.  It was the disciple who called himself "the disciple Jesus loved" (identified by the Church Fathers as St. John Zebedee, the author of the Gospel of John) who told Peter it was the Christ who called to them.  In his excitement and his desire to be with the Master, Peter leaped into the water and swam to shore.  The old life was no longer satisfying for Peter; he longed to be with Christ.  Some scholars point out that it was John who first saw Jesus because, being the more "spiritual" disciple, he was looking with the eyes of faith.  Another possibility is that the much younger man simply had better eyesight than his older companions, or he was at a vantage point where he had a better view of Jesus standing on the shore.

It was the custom to remove one's outer long garment and to wear only a breechcloth when fishing.  Gentiles usually fished naked.  The Jews were particular about maintaining modesty as a sign of righteousness, and therefore public nakedness was forbidden.  So it is unlikely that the men were fishing without any outer clothing but were probably wearing their loincloths.  That Peter dressed before jumping into the water was out of modesty and reverence for his Master.  He tucked or tied his outer garment so that he had the freedom to swim.   John did not jump into the water to swim with Peter to Jesus.  Perhaps this was because John was acknowledging Peter's authority as the leader of the Apostles, as he did in John 21:3-8 when he stood aside and allowed Peter to be the first enter Jesus' empty tomb.

The huge quantity of fish in verses 7-8 is symbolic of the abundance of God's blessings and prefigures the abundant harvest of souls these "fishers of men" will bring into the New Covenant Church, symbolized by Peter's boat.  It is a promise Jesus made to them when He told Simon-Peter: Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men (Lk 5:10b).  This promise of the super abundance of blessings in the New Covenant also recalls the generosity of Jesus:

  1. In the best new wine at the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-12
  2. The miracle of the loaves and fishes in John 6:1-15
  3. The promised spiritual blessings of the "Living Water" in John 4:14 and 7:37
  4. The life which the Good Shepherd promises to the faithful in John10:10
  5. The blessings the Holy Spirit which is promised to pour out on the New Covenant in the Last Supper discourse in John chapters 14-17

John 21:9-11 ~ When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish* on it and bread*.  10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught."  11 So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.  Even though they were so many, the net was not torn.  *"bread" and "fish are in the singular (IBGE, vol. IV, page 318).
The details in this encounter remind us of two similar experiences some of these men had with Jesus: the great catch of fish when the fishermen were called by Jesus to become Apostles in Luke 5:1-11 and Peter's hour of sin and despair in John 18:15-18 and 25-27. The Synoptic Gospels record the story of the call of Peter, Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee.  St. John does not record this event in his Gospel, but he clearly expects us to be familiar with that event and now connects those stories to this encounter with Christ.  There are more parallels between this event in John's Gospel and Jesus' call of the fisherman in Luke 5 than in the other Gospels.

John 21:1-8 Luke 5:1-11
The location is the Lake of Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee). The location is the Sea of Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee).
Seven disciples fished all night. The men had been fishing all night (5:5).
When it was light, Jesus was standing on the shore watching the boat (21:4). It is morning.  Jesus passes two boats by the water's edge; fisherman tending their nets (5:2).
Jesus calls to the fisherman in Simon-Peter's boat and asks if they have caught anything (21:5). Jesus gets into Simon-Peter's boat and asks him to put the boat out into deeper water where Jesus teaches the crowds from the boat (5:3).
Jesus tells them to throw the net out to starboard and tells them they will find something (21:6). Jesus tells Simon to put out into deep water and put out the nets (5:4).
They threw out the nets and the quantity of fish was so great that they could not haul in the net (21:6). Simon tells Jesus they have fished all night without success but they will do as He requests (5:5)
In spite of catching so many fish the net was not broken (21:11). They net such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear (5:6).
Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore, full of big fish, 153 of them (21:11). The other boat [with James and John] comes to help and the filled both boats to sinking point (5:7).
Simon Peter swims out to Jesus (21:7). Simon-Peter falls to his knees saying "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" (5:8).
Jesus re-commissions Peter a second time (21: 15-17). Jesus says to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men" (5:10).
Peter professes his love for Jesus (21:17) and commands him "Follow me" (21:19). Then, bringing the boats back to land they left everything and followed him (5:11).

Notice it is significant that this time the net does not break as it did in the first miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:6.  It is Jesus Christ who is in charge of the catch!  The Fathers of the Church saw Peter's boat as symbolic of the universal Church.  She may be tossed on stormy seas but it is Jesus' will that she should prevail and bring in an abundant harvest of souls.  This is why the main body of the building of a Catholic church is called a "nave;" it is the Latin word for "boat."

Much ink has been spilt in the attempt to answer the question what is the symbolic significance of Peter hauling ashore the net full of this specific number of 153 fish.  Most scholars recognize that the fish are symbolic of the souls harvested by the Church for Christ.  St. Jerome notes that Greek zoologists had determined that there were 153 different kinds of fish in the Sea of Galilee, which he felt were symbolic of all the different tribes of the earth being brought back into God's covenant family.  A parallel to this theory is found in Matthew 13:47 where Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a dragnet which when thrown into the sea gathers fish "of every kind" indicating the universality of the Christian mission.

The use of "fish" and "bread" in the singular in verse 9 is significant.  Here is another connection to the feeding miracle in the feeding of the 5,000 in John chapter 6 when the fish and bread were miraculously multiplied.  Does John want to illustrate the theme of unity at a meal by referring to one fish and one loaf?  Is it possible that Jesus miraculously multiplied the one fish and the one loaf to feed the eight of them, just as He will multiply His flesh and blood through His ordained priesthood to feed the souls of all future believers who come to Him in the Most Holy Eucharist?  In the symbolism of numbers in Scripture, 8 is the number of salvation, redemption and regeneration (see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture".

The other earlier event that is connected to this encounter with the risen Christ is signified by the charcoal fire.  The last time Peter drew near a charcoal fire was when he denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of the High Priest's palace in John 18:15-18 and 25-27, fulfilling Jesus' prediction that Peter would deny Him three times before the trumpet signaling the end of the third night watch called the "cockcrow" (see the chart on the Division of the Night Watches in the first century AD in Luke Lesson 16, handout 3).  Now, at another charcoal fire, Jesus will give Peter the opportunity to repent and be reunited in fellowship with his Lord and Savior.

John 21:12-14 ~ Jesus said to them, "Come have breakfast."  And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord.  13 Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.  14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.   
St. John could be mentioning this third revelation as a symbolic number, or it could be literally the third visit with a larger group of the Apostles or disciples (not counting the encounter with Mary Magdala or the two disciples on the road to Emmaus).  But this is probably literally the third time Jesus has provided evidence to the disciples that He is not a ghost by eating with them.  In Luke 24:13-32 Jesus appeared to only two disciples traveling to Emmaus on Resurrection Sunday, and He stopped at their home and ate with them.  In John 20:19-23 on Resurrection Sunday Jesus appeared to ten Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, which is probably the same encounter recorded in Luke 24:36-43, when Jesus ate with them.  Then He returned one week later in John 20:26-29, but there is no mention of a meal in the return visit.  The meal on the Sea of Galilee is the third meal.  In Acts 10:41 St. Peter writes about eating with Jesus after the Resurrection event, Yet on the third day God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses that God had chosen beforehand.  Now we are those witnesses-—we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead..." (Act 10:40-41).

John 21:15-17 ~ When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  He said to him, "Feed my lambs."  16 He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  He said to him, "Tend my sheep."  17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."  Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 

It is not clear what Jesus means when He asks Peter "do you love me more than these?"  There are two possible interpretations:

  1. Does Peter love Jesus more than the other Apostles?
  2. If Jesus is gesturing to the boat with the catch of fish, is Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him more than Peter's old way of life?

The first possibility is preferred by some Bible translators who include the words "more than these others do" in their translation, interpreting Jesus' question to be is Peter's love for Jesus greater than the other Apostles' love for Jesus.

However, all of the interpretations agree that Peter is being asked by Jesus to declare his ultimate loyalty.  Perhaps Peter was remembering Jesus' testing of the strength of his loyalty when he, in writing to the ordained ministers of the Church in 1 Peter 5:1-4 urges them, So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.  Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint by willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.  Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Note that Jesus calls Peter the "son of John" or Ben Yehohanan in Hebrew.  The Hebrew name Yehohanan means "Yahweh's mercy" or "Yahweh is mercy."  Jesus calls Peter the son of a man named John three times in this passage (verses 15-17), but this is actually the fourth time Peter is identified as the "son of John" in this Gospel.  When Jesus was first introduced to Simon in John 1:42, Jesus addressed him as Simon, son of John. 

However, in Matthew 16:17 Jesus refers to Simon-Peter as the "son of Jonah."  Ben Yonah in Hebrew literally means "son-of-dove" or "son-of-Jonah."  This is not a discrepancy.  In Matthew's Gospel Jesus is using a symbolic reference to the 8th century BC Galilean prophet Jonah.  Five times previous to the reference in Matthew 16 Jesus has compared His impending death and resurrection to the Prophet Jonah's 3-day entombment in the great fish/whale.  If you recall the story of Jonah, you will remember that Yahweh sent the prophet to the capitol city (Nineveh) of the world superpower (Assyria) to tell the people of Nineveh to repent and turn to Yahweh.  Jesus will send His prophet Peter, "son of the dove"—the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, to the capitol city (Rome) of the world superpower (the Roman Empire) where Peter will found the headquarters of the universal Church.  From Rome, St. Peter will bring the Gospel to the world, calling all the families of the nations to repentance and to come to salvation in Christ Jesus!  Peter will become the first Christian Bishop of Rome in circa 42 AD. and will be martyred in 67 AD.

The triple profession of love by Peter in John 21:15-17 forgives Peter's triple denial, and once again Jesus invests Peter as the chief Shepherd of the Good Shepherd's flock.  A triple repetition oath is a common Semitic practice and recalls Abraham's triple covenant formula with Yahweh in Genesis 23:3-20.  The dialogue of Peter's triple repetition investiture uses several Greek synonyms.  Two different nouns are used for "sheep", two different verbs are used for "feed" or "tend", and two different verbs for "know" and "love" (IBGE, vol. IV, page 318). 

Exchange #1 verse 15

Jesus: "Simon, son of John, do you love [agapas] me more than these?"
Simon-Peter: "Yes Lord, you know [oidas] that I love [philo] you."
Jesus: "Feed [boske] my lambs [arnion]."

Exchange #2 verse 16

Jesus: "Simon son of John, do you love [agapas] me?"
Simon-Peter:  "Yes, Lord, you know [oidas] that I love [philo] you."
Jesus: " Tend/shepherd [poimaine]  my sheep [probata]"

Exchange #3 verse 17

Jesus:  "Simon son of John, do you love [phileis] me?"  Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love [phileis] me?" and he said to him
Simon-Peter:  'Lord you know [oidas] everything, you know [ginoskeis] that I love [philo] you."
Jesus: "Feed [boske] my sheep [probata]."

What then is significant in the use of the two verbs for feed or nourish and to guide or rule as well as the use of the two nouns for lambs and sheep?  The two verbs, boskein and poimainein, to nourish and to rule, combine with the two words for lamb and sheep to express the fullness of the pastoral duty assigned to Peter as Vicar of Christ's Church as he guides and feeds the lambs who are the laity, and feeds and rules the sheep who rule over the lambs who are the members of the ordained ministerial priesthood. 

Some scholars interpret the lambs as the spiritually immature and the sheep as the spiritually mature members of the congregation, but this interpretation does not fully take into account the important difference in meaning between the verbs for "feed" and "rule." Philo's quote is an important guide to the use of these two verbs.  As noted above, Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary of St. John) wrote, "Those who feed [boskein] supply nourishment ... but those who tend [poimainein] have the power of rulers and governors."

In the Greek language the word agape defined a spiritual kind of love as opposed to eros, physical love, or philio, brotherly or family love.  However, Christians changed the meaning of the word agape to define Jesus' unique, self-sacrificial love for mankind.  In the first two exchanges Jesus uses the verb form apage, which for Christians signifies Jesus' self-sacrificial love and the kind of self-sacrificing love with which He calls Peter to love His Church.  However, Peter responds each time with the word philo, meaning brotherly love or love of family.  What might Peter's response indicate?  Some scholars contend that the use of the two the verbs for "love" means nothing significant, but St. John never uses double words or double meaning words without some hidden significance.  It is possible that the difference in meaning between these two verbs for "love" signifies that Jesus is calling Peter to a higher form of love, but Peter is not yet ready to commit himself to that kind of self-sacrificing love.

The question is will Peter grow spiritually mature enough to commit himself to that kind of agape = self-sacrificing love that Jesus encourages him to give?  The answer is "Yes."  The Book of Acts records Peter's transformation after the miracle of Pentecost in his fearless preaching of the Gospel.  Acts also records Peter's fearless testimony before the same Jewish court that condemned Jesus as well as other actions that testify to the strength and force of his commitment to the New Covenant Church.  Peter's letters to the Church in 1 and 2 Peter demonstrate that Peter more than rose to the level of self-sacrificing love and fulfilled Jesus' calling, not only in his ministry by spreading the Gospel of salvation and in leading the Kingdom of the Church, but in his martyrdom.

John 21:18-19 ~  Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."  19 He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.  And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
Some scholars believe the fourth Gospel was written several decades after Peter's death and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.  However other scholars, including the Navarre theologians and Dr. Scott Hahn, believe John's Gospel was completed before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, since there is no mention of that great tragedy that was the end of the world for the Jews and fulfilled a major prophecy of Jesus.  It is highly unlikely that the Gospel writers would have failed to declare that what Jesus prophesized about the destruction of Jerusalem came true in 70 AD, it the destruction had occurred prior to their Spirit inspired Gospels, as the Church Fathers later testified.

And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
The first time Jesus called to Peter to "follow me" was after the huge catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee three years earlier (Mt 4:19; Mk 1:17).  Now He uses the same words again, but this time there is a double meaning to the command "Follow me."  Peter will indeed "follow" Jesus and spread the Gospel message across the known world, but he will also follow Jesus not only in imitation of His life but also His death.  Peter, the first Pope [Papa] of the Universal [Catholic] Church will demonstrate his agape love for Jesus when he is crucified upside down in Rome.  St. Peter was crucified upside down at his own request, because he said he was unworthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord (Eusebius, Church History, III.1.1; and Origen, Commentary on Genesis, vol. III).  Scholars debate the exact date, but most accept that it was sometime between 64 and 67 AD.  St. Jerome testifies that after leaving Judea Peter spent seven years with the Christian community in Antioch, Syria and then left for Rome where he served as Bishop of Rome for twenty-five years (Jerome, De vir. ill. c.1).  The Church testifies: "Christ sent the Apostles as he himself had been sent by the Father, and then through the Apostles, made their successors the bishops, sharers in his consecration and mission" (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 2).  It was in Rome that St. Peter, as prophesized by Jesus in John 21:18, stretched out his hands upon a wooden cross and was martyred for his faith, stepping across the threshold of this life and following His Lord and Savior into a blessed eternity.

Catechism References:
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
5:28 (CCC 597),
5:29 (CCC 450, 2242, 2256)
5:30 (CCC 597)
5:41 (CCC 432)

Revelation 5:11-14
5:11-14 (CCC 2642)
5:13 (CCC449, 2855)

CCC references for Jn 21:1-19:
Jn 21:4 CCC 645, 659
Jn 21:7 CCC 448, 645
Jn 21:9 CCC 645
Jn 21:12 CCC 1166
Jn 21:13-15 CCC 645
Jn 21:15-17 CCC 553, 881, 1429
Jn 21:18-19 CCC 618

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013