They were trying to get their home back. After living for years in exile, gathering resources and preparing for a long journey, they were on the road home. However, there was one member they needed for the team: they needed someone who could sneak around, gathering information, pick up loose items. They needed a thief. So they ended up in a hole in the ground with an unwilling host: Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo wasn’t really a thief, he really wasn’t much of anyone, but Gandalf saw something in him and recommended him for the job. At first he seemed to be a failure, someone who loved a soft life and had no ambition. Even though he wasn’t suited for life on the road, or combat, or much of anything, he fit in and in the end, he contributed something to the team no one else could.
Peter could be called a failure. He promised to follow Jesus to death, and when the heat was on, he denied knowing him three times. On the next Sunday morning, he went to the tomb because Mary told him Jesus rose and he didn’t believe her: he had to see for himself. Now they’re back in Galilee, and he’s taken up his old profession with his family and friends. It’s hard to know what Peter was thinking about what it meant to be a disciple or the task Jesus gave him back in Jerusalem.
The first thing Peter finds out today is when he listened to Jesus’ direction, he had more fish than he could handle. Most fishermen I know have days they don’t catch anything, although they might not admit it. Then he sees it’s Jesus on the shore and he does something crazy: even though the ship’s headed to shore, he jumps into the water to get there sooner. Now Jesus is asking him the same question over and over, making him feel hurt and frustrated: do you love me? There’s a parallel here: Peter has to tell Jesus three times he loves Him to make up for the three denials on Holy Thursday. The challenge Jesus gives him every time is similar: feed my sheep.
We may not feel like we’re the Christians we should be. I know I fall short. At my ordination, Bishop Charron of Des Moines told me that I would fail as Peter failed. He was right. But Jesus never gave up on Peter, even though Peter gave up on him. Jesus sent Peter on the greatest mission He could, to feed His sheep, even though Peter may not have been qualified or shown he could do it. So it is with us: we may not feel we’ve lived up to our calling as Christians, but He’s given us the same task He gave his disciples. We’re to take care of those Jesus loves.
We come together today to repeat what Peter said. Jesus asks us: “Do you love me?” We’re here because we say: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus says: “Take care of my lambs.” He even feeds us here at the banquet of heaven, shares His Body and Blood with us so we can follow his call better. We know we’re not perfect and we fail from time to time. Failure isn’t the problem, because even when we fail we still have to Christ’s commission just as Peter did. Our challenge is to stay with Christ as He stays with us, and to continue taking up his call to take care of those He loves.