While some authors have answered this question from a strictly spiritual point of view, the original Greek text of the Gospel provides further insights.
The resurrection of Jesus is also about our own resurrection, when we rise up from our weaknesses, failures and sinfulness to embrace a new and victorious life. This is not much truer than in the case of Jesus’ apostles. From weak, fearful and insecure, the resurrection propelled the apostles to become bold, daring and zealous in proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are arrested, hauled before the Sanhedrin, and ordered to cease preaching in the name of Jesus. The “Sanhedrin” said to Peter and the apostles, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name”? In response to this expression of the highest authority in their Jewish lives, they assert boldly, “We must obey God rather than men.” Ever faithful to Jesus’ command to follow him, they even rejoiced that they were able to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” This is a tremendous gesture of defiance that has become an inspiration for the Church especially during the times of persecution.
The resurrection of Jesus provided the greatest opportunity for the apostles to abandon their immature ways and atone for the betrayal they committed to Jesus. This is most especially prominent in Peter’s life.
In the Gospel, the last of the resurrection appearance of Jesus in the gospels, Jesus appears to the disciples while they were catching fish–their old livelihood. The Gospel scene hints at two failures: the fishermen coming back with no fish and Peter’s denial of Jesus before his death. Yet these failures became occasions for Jesus’ gift of abundance: a large catch of fish, a fuller love that would “glorify God.” Indeed, faithful discipleship is not measured by absence of failure, but by openness to casting one’s lot on Jesus’ commands, a recognition of God’s abundant gifts, and willingness to grow into new life.
John’s Gospel has two charcoal fire scenes. The first, in chapter 18, warms Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard when, as predicted, he denies his master three times. Today’s Gospel presents the other charcoal fire, near which Jesus invites the denier to atone for his cowardice by confessing his love three times. Peter’s profession of love for Jesus three times is Peter’s atonement for his triple denial of Jesus. Love heals his sins and reunites him to Jesus.
Jesus, however, asks Peter to demonstrate his love for him by service to his people: “Feed my sheep, my lambs.” From love comes deeds, namely feeding and tending Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Loving Jesus is not just a personal relationship with Jesus but essentially overflows into loving and serving others–God’s flock. The lambs and sheep belong to Jesus, not Peter.
Jesus then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Peter truly became the kind of man exactly what Jesus envisioned him to be. Love transformed Peter to become the rock of the early church, a fearless proclaimer of the good news and glorifier of God up to his death.
A final paragraph of the gospel contains a prediction of Peter’s martyrdom. This is the earliest reference to that event and its only mention in the New Testament.
Jesus asks us today, like when he asked Peter: “Do you Love me?” Despite our sinfulness, like Peter, may we take the risk to say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” But not just in words but more importantly in action, let us prove our love for Jesus by helping to feed God’s lambs.
During seminars in the Baclaran shrine about the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we asked the participants: “Who is the perpetual help?” Immediately they would answer with great conviction, “Mary, of course!” But then we’ll repeat the question. And this time, we’ll rephrase the question: “Mary is the Mother of perpetual help, so who is the perpetual help?” Then they would think for a while and stare at us intriguingly.
We use this question as a take-off point to a deeper study of the icon and the role of Mary. Mary is Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary is the mother of the source of perpetual help which is her son Jesus. As in the icon, Mary is she who points to the way—Jesus Christ. True devotion to Mary leads us to following Jesus. Mary in the icon, presents Jesus as the path towards salvation. Indeed, in the icon, Jesus is the true Perpetual Help. Mary’s role is to announce to us our central calling–to follow Jesus.
In today’s gospel of the 24th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus directly asked his disciples,
“Who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Peter’s confession is the rock foundation of our Christian life. Without confessing Jesus the Christ as God of our lives, everything we say and do, all our rituals and sacraments will amount to nothing. Christianity is not just a set of obligation, religion or a list of commandments but, first and foremost, a relationship with Jesus. As Pope Benedict XVI said:
“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
To have a relationship with Jesus, however, is not just to have a friendly relationship or a sweet spiritual relationship with Jesus. Like Peter, what many Christians dread to know is that relationship with Jesus entails suffering and even denial of oneself.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”
Peter did not understand this at first, thinking that believing in Jesus as the Messiah could come without the need for suffering. Jesus has to correct him, albeit bluntly, and teach him God’s standard: Christian life amounts to carrying one’s cross in the footsteps of Jesus.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
The suffering demanded by our confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is articulated in the First Reading by the prophet Isaiah. The first reading comes from the third song of the Servant of Yhwh, the “Suffering Servant.”
I have not rebelled, have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. …
The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?
The suffering servant modeled Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession; explaining to Peter that to be the Christ means
“the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed,
and rise after three days.”
The second reading from the letter of James explicate further that to have a relationship with Jesus is not just an exclusive and loving relationship with Jesus–me and my sweet Jesus but a loving relationship with others especially the poor and the most abandoned. Relationship with Jesus is not just professing faith in Jesus but also practising it. The practice of the faith is the performance of deeds that benefit those in need. As the letter of James expounds,
What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, ”
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.
It took a while before Peter fully understood the true meaning of confessing Jesus as the Christ. When Jesus called Peter, Jesus was well aware of the many faults and flaws of Peter. Despite his weaknesses, Peter stayed with Jesus until the end. Indeed, he became a rock of faith. Peter’s being rock comes from the strength he received from God:
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my heavenly Father.”
Like Peter, we fear, we vacillate, and we try to escape from the mission of Jesus. But like Peter, if we rely on God’s grace beyond our capacities, we can truly confess Jesus as the Christ, in word and in deed. Like Peter we will truly experience the fullness of life despite the suffering it entails.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), 1.