3rd Sun Easter [C] 2010

Fr. Charles Irvin

Acts 5:27-32,40-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

In your imagination go with me now into a situation in which you are about to face someone you have hurt, deeply hurt, or in which you are about to face someone who has deeply hurt you. Quite naturally your emotions are powerful. If you’ve hurt that person you feel remorse and guilt, if you are the one who has been hurt you have strong feelings of hostility and resentment. Like the prodigal son in Jesus’ famous parable we will likely rehearse ahead of time what we will say. 

When faced with such situations we may be tempted to give up on those relationships. We may employ avoidance techniques, or protect ourselves like a turtle with a hard shell of cold indifference, or we may, with feelings of righteous indignation, stubbornly refuse even the slightest move toward any reconciliation whatsoever. In all such situations we have to deal with a powerful force within us called criticism. We can be either too critical of others, or we can be too critical of our selves. In either case, simply giving up is the great temptation that looms in front of us aided and abetted by a spirit of criticism.

The most difficult critic each one of us must face is our own self. How do we see and judge our selves? Surely it is good to be determined and steadfast. Surely it is good to hold to singleness of purpose and never lose sight of our ideals and goals. But just as surely it is good to adapt, to be willing to listen to reason, and to change course when necessary. The problem, as we all know so well, comes in distinguishing between the two courses of action.

Changing course is different from merely “giving up”. Giving up is surrendering to weakness or even despair. Do we give up simply in order to take the easy way out? Do we give in to despair? The temptation to give up comes to us in many forms in a number of situations, many times appearing to us as a wise thing to do.

Giving up, however, can be the work of the devil. Giving up was found in each one of the three temptations Satan presented to Christ when He was out in the desert preparing to embark upon his public ministry. Giving up was the last temptation Satan hurled at Jesus as He hung dying on His cross.

When do we give up on others? I’ve known parents, and you have too, who have simply given up on their children. We’ve known spouses who simply gave up on their marriages without going through the effort of counseling and working for reconciliation. We’ve all known family and friends who have given up on the Church, or on religion in general, or on their spirituality, or even on God.

God, however, never ever gives up on us… even when we’ve turned our backs on Him or betrayed Him. That’s what today’s gospel account is all about.

Here we find Jesus encountering some of his disciples after His resurrection. The encounter is situated on water’s edge, reminding us of the waters of chaos in the Book of Genesis from which the Creator brought out order, creating all things, and eventually creating our humanity from the slime of the earth. The waters of the Red Sea, the waters of the River Jordan, and the waters of baptism are all hinted at by the location of that meal there at the waters edge.

The disciples were all gathered together there on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came to them in their midst, foreshadowing how He would come to us thereafter. There were overtones of the Last Supper there, along with all future celebrations of the Eucharist.

It was in that encounter that Jesus asked Peter those three famous questions, questions that obviously recognized the triple denial of Peter during Christ’s suffering. Implicit in those questions, however, was the fact that Jesus had not given up on Peter. Jesus’ love for him and commitment to him were still there, even after all that both He and Peter had gone through when just prior to His crucifixion Peter had denied even knowing Him. Peter’s triple denial had to be acknowledged and faced. Jesus faces it with loving forgiveness, all of which allows Peter to forgive himself. There is a wonderful freedom that flows from forgiveness.

We need to reflect on what might have happened had Judas not despaired, had he stayed with Peter and among the Twelve Apostles. Would Jesus have forgiven Judas? We know, of course, that He would have. It was not Jesus who had given up on Judas, it was Judas who had given up… given up on Jesus and given up on himself.

The entire bible, from beginning to end, presents us with the truth that God offers Himself to us and then waits for our response even though we have sinned against Him. The most marvelous and awe-inspiring truth lying deep within is that God has offered Himself to us and will never withdraw His offer! His love is everlasting and His mercy endures forever. His love and His commitment to us stays forever, no matter what sort of disgusting and horrific sins we may have committed. God never, ever, gives up on us. Any “giving up” is on our part, not God’s.

“Unconditional love” is something we’ve all heard about. Theologians tell us of God’s unconditional love. Unconditional love is something we want to give to our children, our spouses, and our family members. We all, however, have our moments when we’ve abandoned unconditional love and slapped others with conditions on our love, telling them we’ll love them or forgive them “if…” Each one of us has our own set of “ifs”. And, to be honest, we all must admit that we have had our moments when we’ve felt that unconditional love is impossible for us to give.

Which is why we need to seek God’s forgiveness… not simply to save our own skins but so that we, in His forgiveness, might have the power to forgive others as He has forgiven us… so that we will not give up on them. Without God’s power, unconditional love is most likely impossible. But with God’s love and power, all things are possible… even loving others unconditionally… even not “giving up” on them.

Do you think that you have loved God more than Peter did? Do you think that you stand in better shoes than Peter’s? Maybe, in the last analysis, we should all stand before God as he did. Maybe we should all stand in his shoes… and have his power to forgive… the power that Jesus gave him… there on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. How can we forgive others if we cannot forgive ourselves? Forgiving is at the core of never giving up.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”