Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
(Acts 25:13b-21; John 21:15-19)
George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory of communism -- a society supposedly without leaders. Every animal is claimed to be equal to every other. No farmers remain to force any animal to do what he/she does not wish. The situation, of course, soon becomes inoperable. Some of the animals begin to claim that they are “more equal” than the others. The same division of labor ensues as when the farmers were in charge, but the situation is worse with new found tyranny not tempered by experience.
There is some evidence that the early Church saw no need for a leader to replace Jesus. His disciples expected Jesus to return soon after his going to the Father. Everyone associated with the various communities of disciples understood the primacy of love. With such high motivation, is a leader really necessary? Today’s gospel indicates that there is indeed such need if the institution’s existence stretches to any appreciable length. For this reason Jesus is seen appointing Peter as chief shepherd of his flock. But love is to play a major role in his leadership.
To assure that Peter understands what he is saying when he gives him authority over his following, Jesus has Peter profess his love to him three times. Later this love will be tested in an even more revealing way. When Jesus tells Peter that someone will lead him where he would not otherwise go, he is predicting Peter’s martyrdom. Leadership is fraught with pitfalls. Based on self-sacrificing love and guided by the Spirit’s gifts of justice and prudence, however, leaders perform an indispensable and necessary service.