Acts 25:13b-21; Ps 103:1,2,11,12,19,20; Jn 21:15-19
We join in praying the Psalm; we join in blessing the LORD and never forgetting all his benefits. From his throne above all other thrones, the LORD judges, and his judgment is mercy. The LORD, who rules over all, offers all his pardon and his mercy. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” This is the kind of mercy that Saint Paul proclaims fro all the nations; even though it’s not his experience of justice in this world. Simon Peter in today’s gospel is comforted and challenged by the mercy of the Risen Christ who pardoned his three-time denial around another charcoal fire. This absolution is not proclaimed in a ritual formula, but three times it is received in a commission to feed and tend Christ’s sheep and lambs. Saint Peter and Saint Paul receive and proclaim that surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
Roman practice of law and efforts at justice are described and defended in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. As a Roman citizen, Saul of Tarsus has a right to plead his case before the emperor. In the midst of his legal action before the leaders of his own people and of the occupying Roman government, Saint Paul gives witness to the good news about a certain Jesus who had died and who Paul claimed is alive. This profession of faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus becomes in the mouth of Festus something much more politically correct for King Agrippa and Bernice. While on trial for his faith and his refusal to stop preaching Christ crucified and risen, Saint Paul is not afraid of the legal system. Rather he uses every opportunity to give an apostolic witness. Before Festus who quickly took his seat upon the bench of Roman imperial justice, Saint Paul proclaims the Lord Jesus who took his seat upon his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all.
After another miraculous catch of fish and being nourished again on the shore of Lake Tiberius, Simon Peter is summoned to take his seat with the Good Shepherd. Only his throne is not in the heavens. In today’s commissioning of Saint Peter, the Lord Jesus acts out his mercy without even drawing direct reference to Saint Peter’s denials. Such prodigal love brings to mind Saint Luke’s story about the Father who does not hesitate to run down the road toward the long lost son—and never really gives him a chance to make proper apologies and amends. The Lord Jesus does not hesitate to reveal his prodigal love and mercy for Simon Peter who says that he loves Jesus more than another other disciple. Only the one who has received such boundless kindness will be ready and willing to be as prodigal—as overwhelmingly merciful toward the lamb and sheep who sin and fail. Only after Saint Peter accepts his share in the ministry of the Good Shepherd, only then does the Lord Jesus tell him about the shape and position of the throne from which he will offer his nourishing and tending ministry. With reference to growing older in ways of love and mercy as well as years, the Lord Jesus tells Saint Peter about “the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God. When Jesus had finished speaking he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” Indeed Saint Paul, Saint Peter and all of us disciples are summoned in this Liturgy to follow our Shepherd Jesus who is enthroned up on the cross.