Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday in the 7th Week of Easter
The Rising that Empowers a Dying

Readings: Acts 25:13b-21; Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab; John 21:15-19

The great season of Easter is fast drawing to a close. It will end with the feast of Pentecost this Sunday, when we will remember and celebrate the great power that is given to all who truly believe in Christ’s rising from the dead. Today, our readings focus our attention on what is probably the single crucial effect of this awesome power at work in the lives of two of the greatest witnesses to the resurrection, Saints Peter and Paul. Although the Scriptures do not give explicit details, tradition has it that they were both martyred in Rome. Today, we are invited to ponder their martyrdom from two perspectives.

The first reading offers us a somewhat factual account of how Paul came to take the road to Rome. The story that is told by the Roman Procurator of Palestine, Porcius Festus, is striking in its simplicity and ordinariness. The Jewish authorities oppose and accuse Paul and so Paul appeals to Caesar. It will be years more before the curtain finally draws to a close the drama of Paul’s life. But the stage is set. And the plot is a simple one. The facts are straightforward. Yet Festus is right in feeling unqualified to deal with questions of this sort. For there is more to the drama than cold hard facts. The questions of this sort that need to be considered go beyond even the complex details of the apparent religious dispute between Paul and the Jewish authorities. There is more to the drama than meets the eye.

The nature of this more is presented to us in today’s gospel, which provides us with a crucial second perspective on the situation. It is a story that is very familiar to us. Jesus questions Peter and thus enables him to repent of his earlier denial of his Lord. But there is more here than an interrogation and an exchange of information. Simon son of John, do you love me? Yes Lord, you know I love you… What we have is a mending of a strained and broken relationship. And what power there is in the resulting reconciliation. Not only is Peter healed of his guilt and restored to the Lord’s friendship, he is also empowered to serve others. Feed my lambs… Look after my sheep… Feed my sheep. And there is even more to consider. This service will not be of any ordinary kind. It will be service in the footsteps of the One who loved us unto the Cross. When you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will… take you where you would rather not go… The power that is offered to Peter is the same power which inhabits Paul. It is the power to return love for love and to lay down one’s life in the service of others. And if tradition holds true, it is this power that will lead Peter and Paul to Rome, where through their respective deaths they will both give glory to God.

Not all of us are called to be martyrs in quite the same way as Peter and Paul. But, like them, we are all called to live to the full the implications of the Mystery we celebrate at Easter. In the very ordinary situations of our daily lives, we are called and empowered to lay down our lives in the service of the One who laid his down for us. This is the power that we have been meditating upon in this great season of Easter. It is the power of the One who dies unto life, the One who is humiliated unto glory.

How much do we wish to receive this same power today?

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