I remember as a young boy I could not wait for the day when my father would let me finally take the lawn tractor all by myself and mow the lawn.  I’ll never forget the first time, during the spring of the year that he finally let me cut the grass on my own. I was so excited and so happy with myself.  But then just a few days later, as you might say, a real growing up moment took place.  My dad saw me and said, “Boy, get that tractor out; that lawn ain’t gonna cut itself!”  Well that’s when it really hit me. Just like that something I had wanted to do for so long, suddenly became something I had to do. And not only did I have to cut my own lawn, I had to cut my grandmother’s lawn, which was right next door, as well.  I quickly learned that I better had cut my grandmother’s lawn when I was supposed to do so, or else there would be consequences. Unpleasant consequences! Eventually, I came to realize that I should mow her lawn not just to avoid punishment, but because it was the right and just thing to do.  Further down the road, I think I even matured beyond that. I think I can say that eventually I cut her lawn, notto avoid gettinginto trouble or even because it was justifiably and logically the right thing to do.  I believe I came to the point where I could honestly say that I cut my grandmother’s lawn because I loved my grandmother. I tell this story because it reminds me of a lesson which I believe comes from the Gospel story we just heard.  This beautiful story comes from the 21st and last chapter of St. John’s Gospel. And what a wonderful last chapter it is.  It follows immediately after the story of doubting Thomas that we heard last week from John’s 20thchapter, but I wonder if we remember exactly how John closed that chapter out.  After finishing the story of Jesus’ encounter with Thomas and the apostles, St. John says the following: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name.” Those words certainly are a wonderful way to bring a chapter to a close, but, we may think not only are they wonderful words with which to end a chapter, they also would have been wonderful words to close out an entire Gospel.  Well then, it might be interesting for you to know that originally, the Gospel of John did indeed end with the 20th chapter and with these words as its conclusion. The 21st chapter, from which we just heard was a later addition to John’s Gospel and the reason for its addition provides the subject matter for our reflection todayand actually provides us with a wonderful story of how the early Church overcame and resolved a painful situation which may have led to a permanent separation of the community of St. John, the beloved disciple from the Church of Rome. As we may know, John, who was the youngest Apostle, lived long after the other Apostles had been martyred and a devoted community of believers developed around him. The leaders of the Church in Rome which of course had developed around St. Peter saw this as very troubling and a possible threat to the authority of the leadership of St. Peter and his successors.  This threat seemed to become very real to them when they read the first version of John’s Gospel without the all important, 21st chapter. They feared that it gave primacy to St. John, “the disciple who Jesus loved,” instead of sufficiently accepting the legitimacy of St. Peter as head of the Church.  Remember, even, in the account of the Easter story, it was “the beloved disciple” who out ran St. Peter to the tomb, and it was the beloved disciple who first “saw and believed in the resurrection. For this and other reasons, the Roman Church was not comfortable with including the original Gospel of St. John into the Bible. It seemed as though the first schism might be at hand.  But then something wonderful happened.  And that wonderful happening was the 21st chapter that we just heard. The community of the Beloved Disciple added this chapter to the original and it was accepted by the Roman Church as giving sufficient adherence to the primacy of Peter as the head of the Church.  At the same time it allowed John’s community to make its point that love for Christ must be the primary basis for the legitimacy of leadership of the Church.  We might say it was a classic struggle of the head and the heart, of the dominance of the right brain an the left brain, or the primacy of Peter and John. But the Church did not choose between one or the other.  It chose “both and.” Both the head and the heart, both right brain and left brain, both Peter and John and actually set a precedent for Catholic theology that is in place even to the present day.  The Church learned early onthat in many instances we are called to embrace the tension of two great realities (i.e. Jesus is both human and divine, the Trinity is made up of three persons yet one God, the Mass is both a meal and a sacrifice, etc. etc) and learn from the truth which lies within that tension.  And so we have Jesus asking Peter three times “Do you love me?” Do you love me? Do you love me?”  Jesus is almost desperately expressing the fact that He knows He needs Peter’s leadership to establish His Kingdom or His earthly mission would have been for naught while at the same time understanding that if and only if He has the love of Peter’s heart than He can accomplish anything.  Clearly at least two very important points are being made here.  First, Jesus is indeed establishing Peter as the head of the Church and Peter is being accepted as such by John’s community.  Secondly, The Church of Rome is accepting that the legitimacy of the leadership of the Church must be based on nothing other than love for Jesus Christ.  We might say that the early Church avoided what would have been its first Schism by coming to the realization perhaps somewhat painfully, and not totally unlike the young boy who wanted so much to mow the lawn all by himself, that true discipleship, more than any thing else is indeed a matter of the heart.

AuthorCathy Remick