By Fr. Matthew Brumleve
Mercy, Pope Francis says, is the very face of God. The pope also said: “Mercy makes us understand that violence, resentment, and revenge have no place in the life of a Christian.” But oh how we love those things – rather than forgiveness. . .
There once was a little boy, Johnny, who was visiting his grandparents on their farm. And his grandfather gave him a slingshot to play with out in their vast woods.
The boy practiced shooting his slingshot every day – but he could never hit what he was aiming at – trees, stumps, tin cans on fence posts. . . all were missed – why, he probably couldn’t even hit the side of the barn!
Getting a little discouraged after a week, he decided to give up on the slingshot.
But as he neared the house from walking back from the woods that day – he saw his grandmother’s pet duck. Just out of impulse, he picked up a rock, put it in the slingshot and let fly at the duck – most to his surprise – he hit the duck square in the head and killed it.
Johnny was shocked and scared. . . it was his grandmother’s pet duck! In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the woodpile – only to see his sister, Sally, watching. Sally had seen what had happened – but said nothing.
Until after lunch that day – when Grandma said, “Sally, help with the dishes.” And Sally said, “Grandma, Johnny told me HE wanted to help with the dishes, don’t you Johnny?” And she quietly whispered to him, Remember the Duck. . .
So Johnny helped with the dishes. Later, Grandpa said, “let’s go fishing.” Sally and Johnny were both ready to go – until grandma said, “I need Sally to stay and help me clean the house.” And Sally said, “Oh no, grandma – Johnny will be more than willing to say and help, won’t you Johnny?” As she quietly whispered, Remember the Duck. . . So Johnny stayed, and Sally went fishing with grandpa.
After several days of doing BOTH his chores and Sally’s, Johnny could not stand it anymore. He went to his Grandmother and confessed that he had accidently killed the duck. She knelt down, gave him a hug and said, “Sweatheart, I know. I was standing at the window and saw it all. But because I love you, I forgave you. But I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you. . .”
Something like that happened in today’s Gospel – and happens in our lives. There was, you recall, a campfire. Around it, Peter, Jesus’ hand-picked leader of his group, denied him three times – and with swearing and cursing at that!
Then, loaded with guilt, Peter bolted from the fire and fled into the dark streets of Jerusalem. Still enslaved by his guilt, he apparently just wanted to go back to what he knew best — fishing — rather than doing that fishing for men and woman as Jesus had invited him to do.
That’s where we find him in today’s Gospel. Then, as we heard, Peter unexpectedly found himself around another campfire. This time he had the chance to affirm his love for Jesus three times – and Jesus, who was wondering just how long his guilt would make a slave of him – embraced Peter and forgave him – and set him free — just as Johnny’s grandmother did for him.
But this should not surprise us. Mercy was Jesus’ name and forgiveness was his game – not revenge. And hopefully we can all nod in agreement and be filled with gratitude that Jesus will give us a second chance as well, no matter what we do. . .
For Jesus, there is always another campfire around which to set things right – for all of us. And it is only when we are liberated from our fear, our guilt, our pain and confusion – that we can do what Jesus asks of us – just as he asked Peter:
LOVE ME: BY FEEDING MY LAMBS, BY TENDING MY SHEEP, BY FEEDING MY SHEEP – that is how we are called to follow after Christ.
And we cannot do that if we are carrying around the weight of the past – being held back by grudges, or seeking to harm or retaliate against another – by reminding them of the ducks they have slain. . .
Mercy: is the very face of God. We show mercy to others by forgiveness, and through love:
Feed my lambs.
Tend my sheep.
Feed —- my sheep.
Come, let us follow after the Lord.