Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, April 13, 2007

"And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:17)

“SOUL-SURFING” – April 22, 2007
Third Sunday of Easter
(John 21:1-19)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“A tour bus full of senor citizens is cruising down the highway when the driver is tapped on the shoulder by the frail woman seated directly behind him. Offering him a handful of peanuts, he gratefully accepts her gift, munching on them as they continue their journey. Some minutes later she taps him on the shoulder again, offering him another handful of peanuts. Once again the grateful driver accepts. The woman repeats this gesture five more times during the next hour, the driver each time accepting the peanuts. When she is about to pass him another handful, he thinks to ask the woman why she doesn’t eat the peanuts herself. She replies, ‘Well, you see, I can't chew them because I’ve lost most of my teeth.’ The puzzled driver asks, ‘Then why do you buy them?’ The woman replies with an embarrassed laugh, ‘Well, I just love sucking the chocolate off them.’” (Original source unknown)

Having grown up in a large family, and for the past 40 years living in a religious community, I know what it’s like journeying heavenward with a group of individuals. In both my natural family and my religious family, I’ve been that bus driver, subsisting on what others have cast aside, grateful for leftovers offered, even when they be peanuts. And I’ve as often been that toothless senior citizen savoring life’s sweetness, then turning away once the sugary coating has dissipated. In truth, the bus ride from here to heaven has sometimes been marked by attempts to hog all the chocolate while leaving mere peanuts for everyone else.

In the gospel passage we hear today, we find Jesus speaking of the relationship between loving others and feeding them. Addressing Peter, the one soon to be singled out as the foundation stone of the church, “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” (John 21:15-17) Obviously, Jesus is insistent that Peter give informed consent to his declaration of love; hence, the thrice asked question which causes Peter to give more careful consideration to his first hasty response. Furthermore, Jesus asserts, the proof of that thrice affirmed love is to be evident in Peter’s care for the flock.

Loving others as Jesus loves them; feeding others as Jesus feeds them: that’s the challenge for every Christian. Even those of us with the best of intentions can unconsciously suck the chocolate off the peanuts before tossing leftovers to those given to our care. It takes conscious effort and sacrifice to give to others what is of genuine and lasting nourishment. Sometimes we even have to serve up a bitter dish, knowing that it is true nourishment for the journey, sustenance that will, in the long haul, carry a loved one home. Lauri, my youngest sister, reminded me of this truth recently when she told of introducing her children to lima beans.

“Yeah,” Lauri stated on a recent Saturday morning as we sat over coffee, “I’ve always hated lima beans; I even gag on them. But I figured it was time I gave my kids the chance to try them and make up their own minds.” As 15 year-old Shannon grimaced and 10 year-old Shane smiled, Mom continued. “So, we had lima beans last week. I did my best to appear neutral about them, even swallowing them without gagging, but it was clear right away from the kids’ reaction that we’d never have lima beans in this house again!” Laughter all around with Mom’s admission that sometimes you just have to feed your kids bad-tasting stuff to prepare them for the challenging journey ahead. Inevitably, life itself serves up some pretty foul-tasting experiences. Better to learn from the start that not everything that’s good for you is sugar-coated or chocolate covered!

Mom continued: “I remember the painful experience when Caitlin failed her driving test for the third time.” Oldest child Caitlin, now finishing her freshman year at George Washington University, had been a superior student all her academic days. Schoolwork had always come easy to her; then she flunked her driving test and experienced failure for the first time in her life. Things progressed for the worse when two more tests yielded the same result. She only got her license after she had to admit that she couldn’t do this on her own and turned, humiliated, to the assistance of a professional driving school. It was a bitter-tasting morsel for Caitlin to swallow, and her family suffered, too, in those days when she struggled for the first time to accept her own limitations.

But it’s Easter! It’s April! Life is blooming all around as winter has shed its bitter overcoat to reveal spring sweetness. A busload of chatty senior citizens cruises down a highway. The frail toothless woman seated just behind the driver leans forward, offering him a handful of soggy peanuts. Smiling broadly, the driver accepts her gift. Discretely disposing of the leftovers, he knows well that this tiny woman has suffered enough foul-tasting experiences in her life. Glad that she can now savor just the sweetness, on he drives, heaven not so very far down the road.

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