The Problem of Fear and Death

Tom Bartolomeo
3rd Sunday Easter C 2013
Acts 5: 27-32,40-41; Psalm 30;
Revelation 5: 11-14; John 21: 1-19
Reproduced with Permission

Why did Peter suddenly say, "I am going fishing"? Then after a disappointing night on the sea Peter and the other Apostles who tagged along were surprised by a stranger on the shore who asked, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?". "No", they replied. So Jesus told them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." That "something" turned out to be more fish than they could easily handle. ( we neither know the 'time or the hour' in so many instances. ) Then John softly told Peter, "It is the Lord!" I am sure the occasion reminded Peter of an earlier similar experience:

[When Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." [And] Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Depart from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will be a fisher of men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5,4-10).

And we know they followed Jesus for three years right into the Garden of Gethsemane in the dark of night before Jesus' arrest and crucifixion - when they fled for fear of their lives. They carried their fear with them for more than fifty days until Pentecost. They were not the same men we heard from, however, after Pentecost in The Acts of the Apostles when they fearlessly faced death before the same court which had condemned Jesus. At their breakfast meeting with Jesus after his Resurrection they did not want to understand that "living is Christ and dying is gain" as the Apostle Paul had learned many years later. (Philippians 1, 21). But what audacity the Apostles had after Pentecost telling the high court:

We must obey God rather than men [they said]. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.

Condemned or not, they were "free" men who finally understand the announcement Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, had made of his son' prophetic place in Christ's life:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free. . . free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life. . . .You will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. . . . the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1, 68-79).

But then the court set the Apostles free when they were already "free". The rulers of Israel became fearful, fearful of God. Many of us lead bewildered lives, too, skirting along the edges of our faith's commitment, doing our duty . . . haplessly. Such was the state of mind of Jesus' Apostles on that beachhead before their court hearing when they were confronted by the warrior Lamb of God who asked Peter three times, "Do you love me" - the same number of times Peter had disavowed Christ cursing, "I do not know this man you are talking" after his sudden retreat from Gethsemane. (Mark 14, 71). That must have stung Peter as it should have. But not once did Jesus directly call out Peter and his disciples for their abandonment of him in his hour of greatest need. Why he sweat blood in Gethsemane before his capture. Peter had to make that accusation of himself, alone, as we must in the confessional unless we have not sinned . . . ever. Jesus finally got the leader of his Church, wherein he is alive, to say, "Lord, you know everything you know that I love you." Then prove it, Jesus said, "Feed my sheep" and "Follow me." That is your penance. Peter then knew that he was forgiven. What he had first told Jesus years before at that other miraculous catch of fish proved true, "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man", but Jesus kept him. Jesus still desired that Peter and his other disciples ' be fishers of men.' When Jesus first invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to "follow me" they were at first 'tag-alongs' walking behind Jesus. This, however, was the last time Jesus would invite them to "follow me" after his Resurrection and before his imminent Ascension to the Father. For them to follow him they then, too, had to endure danger and death as Jesus did and rise from the dead as Jesus did to share in the glory of the Father as Jesus did. It was an invitation they gladly accepted after Pentecost. They rest is Church history.

Most do not see death the same way. Many live lives in fear of one thing or another which explains why so few face this evil world with courage and hope either afraid of reprisal or afraid of offending anyone - the 'mind my own business' Catholic who 'goes along to get along' who is not Apostolic even to his relatives, neighbors and associates the way the Apostles were. They can always 'go fishing', I suppose.

Let me share with you a letter written by Saint Martin I, pope and martyr, which he had written to the faithful in the seventh century, another troubling time in the world and in the Church. "I am writing you to you", he said, "of things which do oppress us, and I speak the truth in the name of Christ our God":

Removed from all the turmoil of the world and cast aside by our sins, we are separated from life itself. For the people who live in this region are all pagans, and Christians who are known to live in the area have taken on pagan ways, showing none of that charity which human beings, even barbarians, regularly display in numerous compassionate deeds. . . . God wishes all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth through the prayers of Peter. Hence I pray that God will strengthen their hearts in the orthodox faith, help them to stand against every heretic and enemy of the Church and guard them unshaken. [Acknowledging that his death was imminent, that another successor to Peter would succeed him, Saint Martin added

that] together with me in my humiliation, they will receive the crown of justice in the true faith from the hand of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For the Lord himself will take of this lowly body of mine as befits his providence, whether this means unending suffering or some small consolation. Why am I anxious? The Lord is near.

One final indisputable reality for nearly everyone Jesus spoke about at his breakfast gathering: "when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."