Third Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
St. Gregory the Great, on reading this gospel, noted that in the scriptures the sea symbolizes the restless world. It may be calm or turbulent, but it is never a firm foundation. The shore, on the other hand, is a firm foundation. As a shore, though, it has little more to offer. What do you do after you arrive at it? The disciples had anticipated arriving at it discouraged about their lack of success. This added to what they felt after giving their lives to Jesus for three years and now having nothing to show for it. What gave them the firmness they sought and the purpose to guide them was the presence of Jesus. And He was in a good mood! You wouldn’t expect that from a man who had just been crucified.
Jesus represents God. The disciples recognize Him by His actions for the benefit of others. Among these actions is reconciling Peter to Himself. He asks, “Do you love, i.e. do you agape me?” Do you have a self-sacrificing, totally self-giving love for me? That’s what Peter saw during the years he followed Jesus. That’s what he saw at the passion. Peter replies that “You know I love, i.e. I philia you.” Philia is love between friends; it’s natural and human. It is a level below agape. It’s good, it’s sincere, but not what Jesus wants.
When He tells Peter that he will be taken where “you do not wish to go,” He is telling him that it is time to “level up.” Jesus represents God. He is known by His agape. That’s how the disciples recognize Him.
Jesus calls Peter to a higher and deeper, more self-giving love because Peter is made in Jesus’ image and likeness. The image is Peter’s freedom to choose; the likeness is the kind of good that he chooses, that he lives toward. As St. Bernard would say, Jesus wants to rehabilitate the likeness. He represents God, so He does this by telling Peter to seek the good of others (“Feed & tend my sheep”).
Every vocation, marital or monastic, is a call to renew the likeness of God; to level up to a self-sacrificing, self-giving care for God and neighbor. It is a call to freedom from self-concern and for care of others. It is a call from the God Who is love, Who is about the good of others for their own sake.
Being made in His likeness, we aspire to imitate Hiss gratuitous self-giving. We admire it. But we need the power to overcome self-centeredness and live for others. Whether in the marital or monastic vocation we sensed the noble call to meet the demands of love.
Experiencing our powerlessness and admiring God’s power, we had to agree to receive the power to love. This is not received as fast and discreetly as receiving at a check-out counter. It is received through years of life-experience. It can leave one in awe of this God who loves so naturally, so totally and without reserve. It is hard to comprehend. It can even be offensive. That is why the ultimate test of discipleship is willingness to abandon ego and be carried by and trust in this Power Greater than Self. That power is love; it is the wisdom of God.