On an August evening in 1921, a prominent New York lawyer and politician went to bed with what he thought was a cold caught swimming a couple of days earlier. The next morning, his knees were weak and the next day, he wasn’t able to stand or walk on his own. He was terribly ill and almost died, however he did recover his health, but he never walked again for the last 24 years of his life.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nationally known and had hopes of running for office, but being an invalid seemed to end that dream. However with hard work, ingenuity, and a fair amount of disinformation, he was able to return to public life and eventually was elected President 4 times, leading our country through the Great Depression and World War II. It was a comeback never seen before.
Peter had a horrible fall. 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 Magdelene 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: perhaps all the events of the past three years were just a dream, and now he had to go back to what he was before.
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. With that Peter’s comeback was complete. He had gone from the great betrayer to the first leader of the Church, the first Pope.
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.
It’s not easy and we fail at times. However the greatest comeback kid himself, Jesus Christ who rose from the dead, keeps calling us and challenging us to take up His task: taking care of the wounds of the world.
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 responding to his call to take care of those He loves. In Christ we know we can always make a comeback.