3rd Sunday in Easter (C)
It’s a Dog’s Life!
Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Revelations 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 or 1-14
It’s a dog’s life!
Dear sisters and brothers, you’re probably familiar with this expression right? It’s a dog’s life! People usually say that when they get the feeling that their lives are not worth living, when, for example, it seems as though they are spending all their time doing only what other people tell them to do, when it feels like they have absolutely no freedom to do what they themselves want to do. How frustrating! Urgh, it’s a dog’s life!
Maybe we all feel this way from time to time. But sometimes, for some of us, the feeling can become so strong that we can’t seem to shake it off. It’s there when we wake up in the morning. It follows us around as we go through our day. And it’s the last feeling we have before we fall asleep at night. We even have a special name for such a situation. We call it a mid-life crisis. But such experiences can hit us whether we are young or old. For what is a mid-life crisis if not a questioning of worth? We look at all the people and activities that fill our lives, and we begin to ask ourselves whether or not they are really worth our spending our whole life on them. Is it really worthwhile continuing to be faithful to my wife or husband, responsibly caring for my kids, and obediently clocking in at that boring job everyday? But even more basic than that, in a mid-life crisis, one questions not just the worth of others but also one’s own worth. Who am I really? What do I stand for? Do I even deserve having a good life? Such questions are not easy to answer. Which is why, many people end up doing rather strange things when such a crisis hits. Some people change their hairstyles. Others change their cars. Still others change their wives or husbands. Urgh, if it feels like yours is a dog’s life, then change it! There’s some wisdom in that, I guess. But does it really work? Does simply trading in your old car or your old spouse for the latest model really make life more worth living?
Which is why, if you think about it, maybe it’s not such a bad thing being a dog. I can’t be completely sure, but I don’t think dogs ever face issues of worthiness. I don’t think they ever ask themselves whether or not their lives are worth living. Things are really quite simple for a dog. If you feed me, I’ll happily obey you. No questions asked. And I’ll even have fun doing it. Unlike humans, dogs don’t have mid-life crises. But we’re not dogs. Like it or not, facing questions of worthiness is an unavoidable, and maybe even healthy, part of being human.
We see as much in our Mass readings on this third Sunday in Easter. Consider for a moment the experiences of Simon Peter and the other apostles. What was it like for them, who had left everything to follow Jesus, only to see him arrested and put to death on a cross? What was it like for Peter, who had denied his Master three times, after having boasted that he would give his life for him? Was it not likely that each of these men were facing deep and disturbing questions of worthiness? Now that Jesus had died, was it really worthwhile to continue walking the way that he had marked out for them? And were they worthy to do it even if they wanted to, they who had so shamefully deserted their Master when he needed them most? Urgh, it’s a dog’s life!
But, unlike many other people going through a mid-life crisis, Simon Peter and the other apostles don’t react by paying a visit to the car dealership. Instead, they go fishing. It’s not quite clear why exactly they do that. Some bible commentators say they were reverting to their earlier occupation. They were returning to what was familiar and safe. Perhaps. But we may also wonder if there may not be another explanation. We may remember that it was while in their boats, on the Sea of Galilee, that Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee first received their call from Jesus. It was as fishermen that they first fell in love with and had their lives turned around by the carpenter from Nazareth. Follow me and I will make you fishers of people (cf., Mark 1:17). So that, when faced with doubts about this life that they had chosen, isn’t it natural that they should return to the place of their call? Just as when one faces doubts about the person one has married, isn’t it logical to revisit, from time to time, the circumstances in which one first fell in love?
If this is true, then live fish are not the only things that Peter and the other apostles are trying to catch. More than anything else, they are trying to discover again that which makes their lives worth living. And isn’t this also what the Crucified and Risen Christ is asking them about when he shouts to them from the shore of the lake? Children, have you caught anything to eat? More than just inquiring about fish to fill their bellies, Jesus is asking them whether or not they have found that mysterious something that could satisfy their hearts, that sense of purpose and worthiness that could give new inspiration to their lives. Have you caught that? And when their answer is no. Jesus sets out to help them. Not only does he guide them to where the fish are, but he even prepares breakfast for them. With bread and fish, over a charcoal fire, Jesus invites them to a meal that should remind us of the Eucharist that we are about to celebrate, a banquet that fills not just bellies with food, but also hearts and minds with the Holy Spirit. And the effects of this Spirit are seen in the conversation between Jesus and Peter. Not unlike a dog that has just been fed by its Master, Peter finds new motivation to obey. Do you love me… Yes, Lord, you know that I love you… Feed my sheep… Once again, on the shore of the lake, Peter falls in love.
And with that love comes a new sense of worthiness, both of the One who calls and of the one called. It is this same sense of worthiness that the heavenly hosts are singing about in the second reading. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing. It is also this same sense of worthiness that Peter and the apostles experience in the first reading. After having been interrogated and beaten by the Jewish authorities for teaching in the name of Jesus, we are told that they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. Having been fed at the table of Christ’s love, Peter and the other apostles find new worth in themselves, in the lives they are called to live, and in the One who called them to it. They find new strength to obey. Their mid-life crisis is successfully negotiated.
Sisters and brothers, even if we may, at times, experience crises of one sort or another, we are all called to live not the lives of dogs but truly human lives, lives that are worth living because of the love that God has poured into our hearts through the Crucified and Risen Christ, the same love that we are celebrating in this joyful season of Easter.
Sisters and brothers, on this third Sunday of Easter, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is what kind of life are we living today?