“Better for us to obey God than men”, by Fr. Jesus

When we read the gospels, one thing that strikes us is Jesus’ poor choice of disciples: rude fishermen, unlearned, incompetent men. Particularly, the choice of Peter, impulsive and cowardly, as leader of the group and caretaker of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Nowadays, those men wouldn’t have a chance to be admitted to the seminary!

However, when we read the Acts of the Apostles, we see the wisdom
of Jesus’ choice. We see a different Peter, bold, courageous, confronting the members of the Sanhedrin and telling them to their faces: “You had him killed.” Peter, who during the trial of Jesus chickened out and denied him when confronted by a house maid, boldly professes now his faith in the risen Lord before the highest authorities of the land. Jesus was right in his choice of Peter after all.

Peter’s immortal words, “Better for us to obey God than men” have been repeated over and over again by countless martyrs when brought before the courts, accused of disobeying the law. In our recent history, during martial law days, those words were engraved in an underground periodical, Ichthys [Greek for fish, and acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior], published in mimeographed form by the Association of Major Religious Superiors, when the free press was either suppressed or censored by the dictatorship.

We may have to repeat Peter’s words ourselves, when the need arises
(as in the case of the RH bill), in order to oppose government’s moves in favor of divorce, of same-sex marriage, of abortion, or of human rights violations. As Christians, we are law-abiding citizens; we obey the duly constituted authorities. However, we draw the line where the laws of the state run counter to the law of God. “Better for us to obey God than men.”

The gospel brings us back to Peter. Impatient and disappointed, he goes back to his former job, fishing. Other disciples follow him. “It is all over,” they thought. But Jesus did not give up on them. Once again he goes to the seashore, as he had done three years earlier, to look for them and call them back. It is the parable of the Good Shepherd in the reverse: Jesus goes in search of the 99 lost sheep.

As in most resurrection narratives, the disciples fail to recognize Jesus at first. Only John, the beloved disciple, does. Also, Jesus has food prepared. Our relationship with the Lord now is not based on his physical presence but on faith and the sacraments, especially
the Eucharist.

The number of fish caught, 153, represents, according to St. Jerome, all kinds of fishes known at that time; hence the catch signifies the universality of salvation: The Church is the net which gathers all the peoples and nations. Finally, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me”? Peter is given the chance to make up for his threefold denial of Jesus during the trial. A very tender scene indeed. There is no recrimination, no scolding, no settling of accounts. Just a threefold profession of love. Peter is re-instated
as the supreme leader and shepherd of the Church. The only qualification he needs is love. Not theology, church history or canon law, but love. His role, and that of every shepherd in the
Church, is to feed the flock-Jesus’ flock. In the span of a few weeks, Pope Francis has shown to be such a loving shepherd-and has endeared himself to the flock.

Jesus feeds the apostles so that they, in turn, can feed the lambs and the ewes. In like manner, we are fed here at the Eucharistic banquet, not just to become spiritually robust, but in order that we may feed others.