Sunday April 29, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday of Easter
Reading I (Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41) Reading II ( Revelation 5:11-14)
Gospel (St. John 21:1-19)
In the Gospel reading today, at the very end of the Gospel, we hear this conversation between Peter and Jesus. Jesus looks at Peter and says to him, "Peter, do you love Me?" The Lord looks at each one of us and asks the exact same thing: "Do you love Me?" We, of course, are going to answer "Yes." We love Our Lord, after all, we would not be here if we did not love Our Lord. Peter could certainly say the same thing; but at that time, Peter was still very much afraid. He was concerned about other people and what they might think. He was concerned about going out and living his faith. They were still filled with fear. So, there was a love for Jesus, but there was not a depth of love. What I always say is: We love Our Lord, but some of us are not "in love" with the Lord. That is exactly what Our Lord wants for us. He wants us to be totally in love with Him.
If you think about it, there a lot of people in this world whom you love. There are family members, friends, and acquaintances that you have a certain amount of love for; but there are a few people in your life that you are in love with. Those would be your spouse, your children, maybe a couple of other people who are very close to you. If you put it into context, you could ask yourself what you would be willing to do for just a friend as opposed to what you are willing to do for somebody whom you are in love with. For a friend, you would be willing to take on a few difficult things, maybe suffer slightly for them. But it is different for somebody you are in love with. If one of your small children is in trouble, you would be willing to put out anything for that child. One would hope that, after a number of years of being married, you have not lost that same attitude toward your spouse. You would be willing to lay down your life for that person. You would be willing to give anything because you are so in love with that individual. You have given your entire life to the service of that person. That is the kind of love we should have for God: To give our entire life for the service of Almighty God, to lay it all on the line, just as He did for us.
But in that conversation with Peter and Jesus, there is something that happens that we do not see in English. In Greek, there are three different words for love; two of them are used in this conversation. Jesus asked Peter, in essence, "Peter, do you love Me with the highest, most perfect kind of love? Are you in love, Peter?" Peter says, "Lord, you know that I am Your friend." Jesus uses the word "agape", Peter uses the word "philos" or "phileo" in Greek. Jesus asks a second time: "Peter, do you love Me with Ďagapeí love, with the highest love, with the kind of love that God has for you?" Peter says, "Lord, you know that I am Your friend." The third time, Jesus says, "Peter, do you love Me as a friend?" Peter says, "Lord, You know everything. You know that I love You as a friend."
See what Jesus is doing. He is saying, "Peter, are you in love with God?" Peter says, "WellÖ You know that I love God." Jesus says, "No. Are you in love with God?" Peter says, "You know that I love God." How many of us would have to answer the same way? If Jesus came down and looked us right in the face and said, "Are you in love with Me?" most of us could really honestly answer, "Lord, You know that I have some love for you. You know that I want to be Your follower. You know that I am trying, kind of, to do Your Will." Jesus says, "No. Are you in love with God? Head over heels in love with God? Are you willing to do whatever God is asking of you? Are you willing, as the disciples were after Pentecost, to rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name?"
Think about what Our Lord did. In the second reading today from the Book of Revelation, we hear twice, among a few other points, that the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is worthy of honor and glory and might. He is worthy of honor and glory. Yet, what He did for us was to accept dishonor. Look at the Passion. Look at the Cross. In His humanness, He was dishonored completely because He was in love with you. He did it for all of us, but He did it for each one of us, individually. Each of us can look at the Cross and say, "He suffered that dishonor for me. He did it for me." Why? Because He was your friend? No. Because He is in love with you. He loves you so much that He was willing to suffer any level of dishonor, even though He is worthy of honor and glory, He was willing to suffer dishonor. What He wants is that we would share in His honor and glory.
But on our part, we need to be willing to share in His dishonor. We need to honor Him and glorify Him in any way that we possibly can. If that means that we will be rejected, scorned, and ridiculed by the people around us, so be it. Are we willing to suffer dishonor for the Name of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to be counted among those who would follow Him? These are hard things for us. This is where we really realize the answer to that question: Are you in love with Me? Or are you My friend? If we are really seriously honest, brutally honest with ourselves in the depths of our heart, most of us would probably have to admit that we really do not want to suffer dishonor on behalf of the Name of Jesus Christ. More than that, most of us probably would not be willing to rejoice that we had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor.
Jesus, on the other hand, rejoiced that He was able to suffer dishonor for us. "For the joy that lay before Him," Saint Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, "He accepted the Cross, heedless of its shame." He did not care what kind of shame He had to suffer for us. A parent does not care what kind of shame he or she has to suffer for their children. Someone who is totally in love with another person does not care what kind of shame they would have to suffer in order to do some kind of charity for that other person. Jesus Christ did not care what kind of shame He had to suffer for you and me. Should we care what kind of shame we need to suffer for Him? We need to be willing to rejoice. We need to be willing to be counted among those who are followers of the Lord.
Jesus, knowing our weakness, is willing to come down to our level. When we cannot answer "Yes" when he asks, "Are you in love with Me?", He comes down to Peterís level and He comes down to ours and says, "Fine. Are you My friend? Do you love Me with friendship kind of love?" But notice what He says at the end: "Follow me." He will bring us higher. He will bring us to be able to be in love with Almighty God. He will bring us to that point where we will be willing to do anything for Him. The question really is: Are we willing to follow Him? Are we willing to go to that level? Some of us, when we look at the lives of the saints, scratch our head and suggest that these guys were kind of crazy; they were a little different, they were weird. What is wrong with them that they were willing to go out and do all these things that people thought were so strange? So, we back away. We say, "If that is what it means to be in love with Jesus, I am not sure I really want it."
But think about it on the natural level. If you are in love with someone, donít you do a lot of strange things? We are willing to put ourselves out and do things that we normally would not do because of the love of another person. It is not anything that we would personally prefer to do, but we will. Think of a man, for instance, who is in love with a young woman. Most men are not usually found frequenting flower shops, but they are more than happy to do it because they are in love with a woman. We can take a small example like that and so many others, if you just think about it for a few minutes. What are you willing to do for somebody with whom you are in love? Now, apply that to God.
If we were truly in love with God, it would not matter to us what we were asked to do. We would be willing to be thought foolish because it would not matter; it is done for Him, whom our heart loves. That is what God is asking for each of us. Not to keep Him at an armís distance, not to give Him lip service while our hearts are far from Him; but to be in love with Him, to give our whole heart to Him, to pour our whole being into the relationship with Jesus Christ, knowing that in doing that He is loving us perfectly, infinitely; and thereby giving us the grace and the ability to love the people around us more than we ever have before. If we are willing to lose ourselves, in our love for God, we will gain our true selves that God made us to be. That is the joy and beauty of what God is offering. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy of all honor, glory, power, and might. He is worthy of our love. He looks at each one of us today and says, "My beloved, do you love Me? ... Do you love Me?" What is our response to this question of Jesus Christ?
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.