When we look at the disciples it is easy to see ourselves in their midst. Two thousand years plus and basic humanity has not changed. I try to follow Jesus, but there are times when I doubt Him, times when I betray Him, and times when I deny Him. In fact, like the apostles each one of us has a calling from God to “Follow Him” in spite of our failings.
In addition, each of us are called to follow him in a unique way. We were all created differently with different backgrounds.
Image by Felix Merler
By Lou Occhi
Today’s gospel talks about everybody’s favorite subject, death. I know that my time on earth is short. In spite of that, my faith gives me hope of eternal life with our Lord. Still, it is always a thought looming in our mind. It was the same for the disciples even though they had witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Today’s gospel reading starts with verse 20. I would like to start just a bit before that with Verse 15. Here Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Unfortunately, we lose some of the significance of the discussion because of the translation. The Greeks had many words for our word love. The three most common words were erotic, filial and agape. Obviously, erotic refers to sexual attraction. Filial refers to brotherly love. Agape is a much deeper word indicating a love so strong that you would be willing to die for another. In this conversation between Jesus and Peter, Jesus asks Peter two times if Peter loves Him with agape love. Both times Peter answers that he loves Him like a brother. The third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves him like a brother and Peter responds that he loves him like a brother.
The conversation ends with Jesus telling Peter that when he was young he would fasten his own belt and walk where he wanted. Then He tells Peter that a day will come when you will stretch out your hands, someone will fasten your belt and take you where you do not want to go. This was indicating the type of death Peter would have. Jesus ends by telling Peter to “Follow Me.” When Jesus says “Follow Me,” He means to follow Him throughout life all the way to the cross.
This leads right into to the reading for today. Peter saw that John was in the crowd and asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Apparently, he was wondering if John was going to die as well. Jesus answered Peter by telling him that it is no concern of his about the future of John. Again, He tells Peter “Follow Me.” The word spread around among the brethren that John would not die even though Jesus had not said that.
All of the apostles continued to preach the gospel until their deaths. John was the only apostle not martyred. According to archaeologist Margherita Guarducci St. Peter was martyred in 64 AD during Nero’s persecution of Christians.
This brings us to the reading from Acts. Paul is under house arrest and has a personal guard to watch after Him. The Jews had turned him over to the Romans as a prisoner. The Romans had found nothing to indicate the death penalty, yet the Jews objected. Paul would ultimately have to plead his case to Caesar. During his captivity, Paul would host guests to his house and would preach the gospel to the faithful that gathered around his home. He also devoted time to writing the ‘Captivity Epistles’ to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians and to Philemon.
After two years of captivity, he was released from house arrest. Luke does not tell us a lot about the accusations that were placed against Paul or about the final outcome of the accusations. One possibility was that the Romans never were convinced he had committed a crime and simply released him. The other possibility is that the Jews did not show up to testify against him. Legend has it that Paul continued to preach the gospel as far west as Spain and as far east as Macedonia and Asia Minor.
Eventually Paul was rearrested and beheaded in 67 AD although we do not know much about the circumstances of his execution.
When we look at the disciples it is easy to see ourselves in their midst. Two thousand years plus and basic humanity has not changed. I try to follow Jesus, but there are times when I doubt Him, times when I betray Him, and times when I deny Him. In fact, like the apostles each one of us has a calling from God to “Follow Him” in spite of our failings. In addition, each of us are called to follow him in a unique way. We were all created differently with different backgrounds. From there we are called to preach the gospel in our own unique ways. Look at the lives of the apostles. They were all completely different people with completely different talents. Each of them would go forth preaching the gospel in their own way.
I am sure Peter, a fisherman, would have a very different preaching style than Matthew, a tax collector. We never hear Matthew saying he wants to be more like Peter or Peter saying he wants to be more like Matthew. Yet both were successful in their ministry. Paul is another example of uniqueness. He was a Roman citizen with Greek heritage and Jewish faith. Although there is a lot of information about his preaching, it is his writing that has endured for over 2000 years. In addition, who else would be most qualified to preach to the gentiles. One more thing that we should consider is that preaching the gospel is not restricted to words. Example is even more effective.
Frequently when we talk about evangelizing we focus on the men. It was our Blessed Mother who comforted and encouraged the disciples after the crucifixion despite being the one who suffered most. It was Mary Magdalene who was first to the tomb after the crucifixion and the one who told the apostles the Jesus was alive. Finally, let’s not forget the woman at the well who single handedly prepared a Samaritan town to accept Jesus. Each of them were specifically chosen for their mission.
When we suffer, our acceptance of suffering gives courage and hope to others who are also suffering. I watch the commercials of the first responders and soldiers who have suffered extreme injuries and how they accept their injuries and continue work to overcome their disabilities. I marvel at the wives and how they love and support their wounded spouse. In a way they are evangelizing even though they may not be aware of it.
The point is, that in the end, we follow Jesus all the way to our cross and straight into his loving and merciful hands for all eternity.