The following Homily was given by Fr. Herbert Nicholls on April 20th at the Mother of the Light Convent
True faith is rooted in humility which enables us to let go of ourselves, to let go of our own will, and to let the power of Jesus work in us.
As we look at this Gospel, Jesus very delicately and lovingly engages with Peter in a pivotal moment that will enable Peter to see for himself his great love for Jesus and the power of that love which is greater than any opposing power that might try to keep him bound in the memory of his toxic shame and human failures.
The use of the word “shame” is of significance. It is very different from “guilt” although we too often use the terms interchangeably. “Guilt” might be called the voice of conscience. It is the voice of God inviting us back to healthy relationship with Him. “Shame”, on the other hand, is never healthy, nor from God. It is a feeling of disruption, division, from God which makes us feel alienated. Shame can persist even after guilt is healed.
Peter and the others had already received the Holy Spirit, the gift of Forgiveness, peace, serenity, and had been told to share these gifts with others. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven (Jn 20:23). The name of Jesus (Yeshua) has an authority and a power that goes beyond simple memory. It is active and forceful and cuts to the very heart.
They had been pardoned, but something was still eating inside of Peter. His eyes were riveted on the charcoal fire, perhaps reminiscent of the charcoal fire in the courtyard of Caiphas on Great Friday. Perhaps due to this intense physical focus, Peter was unable to recognize the “man” on the shore; at least not until John, who now seemingly is in peace and serenity is able to recognize and to share with Peter the identity of this “man”.
Peter, who was stripped naked, probably customary for fishermen out on the waters, “cloths himself”. The Greek text here makes a clear distinction which is lost in English translation. The clothes with which Peter covers himself is not his, his own, but his, that of another person, of Jesus’ cloak of righteousness.
Now Peter makes a deliberate decision to jump in the water and swim to the Lord. I firmly believe this is no coincidence. I believe that the Evangelist in his final chapter is drawing a deliberate contrast with the opening pages of Genesis, where the first humans were deceived to fear and hide from God in shame. They no longer felt worthy to be what God had created them to be: the image of God, the children of God.
As Jesus stepped forth from the stone-blocked tomb liberated from death; Peter was now released to come forth from his stone-crusted shame, liberated from the power of evil. Jesus’ desire for Peter and for all of us is to recognize while we are human and make mistakes, the power of love is able to overcome a multitude of sins, of evil choices.
This is the most encouraging intervention that anyone can experience.
As Jesus takes Peter deeper and deeper into the healing of shame, asking him three times, healing that three-time denial at the first charcoal fire; Peter is brought to understand that in spite of his imperfections, he could still serve Jesus faithfully and fully.
Jesus seeks to have this same exchange with us. To burn away the dross of doubt and to enkindle in our hearts the fire of love. We will continue to make mistakes. Only God is perfect. But as we publically declare our love for Jesus, and our love for the power of His Name (Yeshua); that love will become visible proof of His ability to make His kingdom of serenity and peace a reality on earth.