The Number One Priority

25 May 2007 Friday of the 7th Week of Easter
John 21, 15-19 The Number One Priority

The Gospel today is almost at the end of John’s Gospel and it is seems like a nice summary of the ministry of Jesus. Here are snippets from the Gospel accompanied by short reflections on it.

First, Jesus eats breakfast with them. Table-fellowship, as modern theologians call it, marks the ministry of Jesus. During his time, Jesus would eat with anybody, sinner or saint. He would even provide the meal even if it meant feeding five or four thousand. Even after the resurrection, two disciples recognized Him when He broke the bread. When He appeared to them, He proved that He was indeed alive by asking for food. For Jesus, eating together was important. Eating together made memories.

Mealtimes are important in creating a community. Here we share each other’s lives. Here we celebrate our friendship. And as the case of many nice restaurants, it becomes the venue for long-time friends to catch up, deepen their relationships, or even repairing broken unions. Many families come together because of a favorite dish that brings back the memories of their parents and their childhood. For example, my family gather around the bicol express or the malunggay cooked in coconut milk only our mother can cook well. This is the reason why we come to mass: it is not a personal devotion or an individual activity that many of us think it is; the mass is a meal — it celebrates community. It celebrates the memory of Jesus who eats all the time.

Second, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me MORE than these?” Jesus asked Peter how deeply Peter loved Him — Do you love me more than your family, your friends, and your work? Am I on top of your priorities? Will you drop everything for my sake? In another passage, Peter had affirmed his love for Jesus: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26, 33).

There are times when we would like to ask our friends who we are to them. Not that we are insecure, but it would be nice to know. But an occasional affirmation of our love for each other helps smoothens any rough edges or heals little unsaid hurts. In this Gospel, Jesus speaks to us: Do we love Jesus more than anyone or anything else? Does Jesus determine our lives and our lifestyle?

Third, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. We knew Peter denied Jesus three times. And it was hurting to Jesus. Jesus gave Peter the chance to repair the damage: a threefold denial was mended by a three-fold declaration of love.

The number of times that we need to forgive is also the number of times others — or ourselves — hurt us. Forgiveness has always marked Jesus. Jesus has always been forgiving. Sometimes it is easier to ask God for forgiveness, than ask another person. And each time we fail to love Jesus, each time we need to declare our love for Him. Thus, we experience God’s love for us by the number of times He has forgiven us — even if we don’t deserve it.

Fourth, Jesus then requested Peter to feed and tend His sheep. Love brought Peter a task and a responsibility. St. Ignatius of Loyola said that love ought to be shown more in deeds than in words. Thus, Jesus asked Peter to show his love by becoming the shepherd of His people.

If by chance we have a great devotion to the Good Shepherd, then we know what it means to be shepherd to others. It takes the form of being guides, teachers, parents, and friends to those who are astray.

And finally, Jesus told Peter what His love would entail, “When you were young, you can choose where you will go; but the day will come when you will be taken away you did not choose.” Many said that this was the prediction of Peter’s martyrdom. But, it carried with it a truth: the cross was part of the package. Some form of suffering accompanied love.

Therefore it means to continue loving even when it hurts. Love is about someone. And that someone will take us away even to things we do not choose — like a hurtful word, an occasional betrayal as Jesus experienced. When we were young, we had the delusion that we would be able to do what we want — without the clutches of our parents, the schedule of the school, or the demands of class. In real life, the younger years are years of greatest freedom. When we become older, someone or something else would determine our life. A newly born baby becomes the center of attention of newly-married couples. They will have to abandon their night-outs that characterized their life before marriage. The older person who have been someone before — as one of the who’s who in the university — suddenly find themselves ignored by younger generations who do not know who they were. Or their lifestyle has been determined by their illnesses.

But there is one question that summarizes all these: as we move ahead, we are asked who takes the number one priority in our lives — the person who gives meaning and focus to our lives. Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ said, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love. And it will decide everything.” For Christians, that person has a name: Jesus.

*some of the students in UP whom I love. They determine my life.

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