Our sacred authors always enjoy showing someone's growth in faith. Nowhere is such growth more evident in the Christian Scriptures than in the person of Peter.

In Sunday's first reading (Acts 5:27-32, 40-41), we see him bravely resisting those who try to stop Jesus' disciples from preaching in His name. No matter the threats, Peter refuses to cave in.

"Obedience to God," he proclaims, "comes before obedience to humans."

Amazing! Just a few months before, this same Peter had quivered in his sandals when a servant girl recognized him as a follower of Jesus, leading him to deny he ever knew the carpenter from Galilee. Now, in the face of fatal consequences, he publicly professes his relationship with Jesus.

Overcoming fear

What changed Peter? How was he able to overcome his all-consuming fear? Listen carefully. He himself tells us the source of his new, stronger faith: "The God of our ancestors raised Jesus....We are witnesses of these things."

Without going into detail, Peter proclaims that the person he had followed before the crucifixion is now alive after the crucifixion. What's left to fear if you don't have to fear death? Faith that Jesus lives empowers Peter to live life fully.

We hear this same faith shouted out in the second reading (Rev. 5:11-14). John's uncountable crowd cries out, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise!" No longer dead, Jesus the Lamb reigns over heaven and earth.

Yet, how can Peter, or anyone else, be certain Jesus is alive? As Father Raymond Brown reminds us, no passages in Scripture are more confusing and contradictory than the accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus.

Is there a path through the confusion, a path which would help us strengthen our own faith? The Gospel (Jn 21:1-19) gives us a valuable hint on where such a path is to be found. Though tucked away in the last chapter of the last Gospel, scholars believe this appearance of Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias is probably the first such appearance His disciples experienced.

When Peter tells the other six, "I'm going out to fish!" we have to remember that Peter, unlike most of us, fishes for a living. The proper way to understand his statement would be, "I'm going back to fishing!" This seems to imply that after Jesus' followers returned to Galilee from their disastrous Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they didn't immediately go back to doing what they had done before Jesus' death.

Like everyone who experiences the death of a loved one, there appears to be a reluctance on the part of Jesus' disciples to resume their former way of life, the life they had lived while He was still alive among them. Such a return would be an act of disloyalty to the person who had given new meaning to their ordinary, everyday lives.

Yet, as Doctor Elizabeth Kubler Ross teaches, eventually everyone who loses a loved one must "go back to work." Unless we return to doing what we did while our loved one was still alive, we'll never be able to cope with that person's death.

Jesus again

The beauty of the Gospel narrative is that only when the seven return to the sea without Jesus do they discover that Jesus is alive among them. They experience Him in the same ordinary, everyday actions which they thought they could never again do without Him.

The reason things get so confusing in Scripture once Jesus rises from the dead probably revolves around the extremely personal way in which His followers experienced Him alive in their lives. No two people had the same experiences because no two people live life exactly the same way.

Though some themes keep coming back þ like recognizing Him in a community meal and receiving "a job" to do once He's recognized þ the place, the words, the circumstances are always different.

The Gospel resurrection narratives are more than just the historical reflections of Jesus' first followers; they're keys, helping us discover Jesus alive among us in the everyday lives each of us experiences.

(04-23-98)