For Sunday, May 21st, 2023
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to Simon Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 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. 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.” 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.”
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks the disciples who the people were saying that he was. They responded that some said Elijah, some John the Baptist, and still others one of the prophets. Jesus then asked who they—the disciples—said he was. Peter’s response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” lead to Jesus’ famous blessing and the founding charter of the papacy, which would be known as the office of Peter:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16: 16-19).
Soon after receiving this blessing and task, Peter responded to Jesus’ teaching about the suffering and death the Christ would have to undergo:
“Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men’” (Matthew 16:22-23).
The key to understanding this passage is to understand what it means to be “behind” Jesus. The most fundamental aspect of this is to be a follower of Jesus. Peter may be the rock; he is not the manager of the Christ’s affairs. To make this kind of mistake is to open oneself up to other errors. And we know that Peter made them, most importantly denying Christ three times on the brink of his trial.
In today’s reading, Jesus is testing Peter to see whether he has regained his steadiness. What he wants to know is whether Peter loves him, a question he asks three times. And to Peter’s affirmations, the Lord tells him what his task is: to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep. Jesus adds to this task the warning that Peter himself would die the kind of death to which he had objected when Jesus predicted it of himself–death on a cross.
We men who have responsibilities as shepherds of families or of others in the Church must both love and follow Jesus—not tell him about how he should follow our plans. In your prayer today, ask the Lord if you have been following him. If there have been places where you have been wandering or have been resisting the Lord’s will and trying to substitute your own, ask him to prune your will and make your love complete.
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