Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 14, 2013

2013.04.14 “Return to What We Know ” – John 21:1 – 19

Central United Methodist Church

Return to What We Know

John 21:1 – 19

The 3rd Sunday of Easter

April 14th, 2013

After this, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea (the Sea of Galilee). This is how he did it: Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.”

        The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night.  When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him.

        Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?”

        They answered, “No.”

        He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.”

        They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.

        Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!”

        When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish.  When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.

        Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.”  Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore — 153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.

        Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.

        Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.

        After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

        “Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

        Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

        He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

        “Yes, Master, you know I love you.”

        Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”

        Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

        Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”

        Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.”  He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, “Follow me.” – John 21: 1 – 19, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

What a strange and wonderful story for the third Sunday of Easter.

Two weeks after our celebration of Christ’s resurrection, our lives have returned to normal, and we may be wondering if Easter has had any affect upon our lives, whether the resurrection of Christ has had any impact upon the world. Most everything seems unchanged: taxes are due, government is in gridlock, gun violence carries on unabated, the same conflicts simmer throughout the world. We wish we had more answers, but we don’t, and sometimes it becomes overwhelming, even discouraging.

According to this strange and wonderful story, that was the way Jesus disciples felt, even after his resurrection.

It is a strange story in many ways.

As you know from hearing and reading it, the Gospel of John has a different character than the other three Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels, because they share more of the same material and see more the same way than the Gospel of John. As the last of the four gospels, written around the end of the first century, the Gospel of John is more crafted and artful.

And it certainly has some interesting stories. That time, for example, Jesus turned water into wine at that wedding in Cana of Galilee, what was that about? Or when, upon the news of the empty tomb, how Peter and John ran a footrace to see who could get there first; are we missing something there? And now this strange story

If you remember, John, chapter 20 – which we read last Sunday – ended quite nicely.  It’s as if the curtain goes down, and the narrator comes out on stage and says:

“Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.” (John 20: 30 – 31)

Not bad. But just when you think the lights are about to come up, this story follows like an epilogue, leading some to speculate it may have been added at a later date.

According to this story, even though the post-resurrection Jesus had already appeared to Jesus’ disciples twice, on this, the 3rd Sunday after Easter, do we find them out carrying forth Jesus’ message and ministry in the world?  Nope!  They return to what they know, to Galilee to go fishing. Fishing for people? No, people are hard. Fishing for fish, which is much easier. Although, apparently not for them, since they never seem to catch any. Jesus’ disciples must be some of the worst fishermen in history; because in the Gospels, without Jesus help, they never catch a single fish. At this point, it’s not looking good for fishing for people, either.

Once again, they have fished all night, not catching a thing. Not even enough fish for breakfast. When they pull their net up, it was that scene in the movie Forrest Gump: in their net was a license plate, an old toilet seat, a few cans, but no fish.

Then comes a voice from the shore, a voice that sounds strangely familiar, though at this point they don’t recognize it. “Throw your net on the other side!” Does it seem to you as it must have seemed to them, that there were a lot of shore-bound fishing advisors – like backseat drivers – in those days? Were people always yelling advice to them because they were such rotten fishermen, or was it just Jesus? Still – you have to wonder – since Luke tells us this had happened before – they don’t recognize Jesus? What kind of person is this resurrected Jesus, that no one recognizes him – even in “deja vue” such as this?

With more obedience and courtesy than I can imagine, they do what the stranger recommends, and once again the net overflows with fish, 153 to be exact. Now, you’d think they’d get it. But in John’s Gospel, Simon Peter doesn’t get it, but John – “the disciple whom Jesus loved” – does, and exclaims: “It’s the Master.”

If all this is not strange enough, get this: Peter – evidently, liked fishing naked; although it would seem to me there would be certain risks to that, especially if any hooks are involved. But then again, why not? You are out in a boat. I’ll let you be the judge of how auspicious this is for the future first pope of the Catholic Church. Given all the media scrutiny, I doubt Pope Francis would get away with it today; the Duchess of Cambridge certainly didn’t.

Anyway, Peter does what I would do; he puts his clothes on, and then jumps into the water; another Forrest Gump moment.  Does that make any sense to you?  Guess it’s better to show up dressed, even if totally soaked.

One way or another, they all get to shore, to find Jesus cooking a breakfast of bread and fish over a fire. And here’s the strangest thing of all: even though by now they know its Jesus, nobody says anything!  Maybe it’s a guy thing?

Jesus takes the bread and gives it to them. He does the same with the fish. Sound familiar? Makes you wonder if we’re doing communion wrong; maybe we should be using bread and fish, not bread and wine, as in fact the early Syrian Church did.

Finally, there’s that little interrogation Jesus makes of Simon Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Do you really, really love me? Do you really, really, really, love me? Peter grows increasingly irritated, with each question, even though, the last time he was around a fire like this, he had denied Jesus three times. Three times he’s asked, and three times he gets to affirm his affection: “Yes, Master, you know that I do.” With each affirmation, Jesus answer is the same:  “Then feed my sheep.”

I don’t think any of us doubt it’s a strange story; but what makes it a wonderful story?

Because, in many ways, this story makes sense to us, maybe more so than some of the other post-resurrection stories.  In this story we see so many recognizable human characteristics; I would say we may even see ourselves in it.

If nothing else, don’t you love the detail? Can’t you imagine sunrise on the Sea of Galilee? The sensory shock when Peter dove into the cold water? The sight, sound, and smoke of a bonfire on the beach? The hunger after a night of fishing, the taste of grilled bread and fish?

I can even understand why Jesus’ disciples went fishing, can’t you? After all, it had been a week of physical, emotional, and spiritual overload. The high emotions of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the dramatic clearing of the Temple, a Passover meal unlike any other, the experience in the garden of Jesus agony, betrayal, and arrest, followed by a mock trial, a jeering mob, and then Jesus’ bloody execution. They were left crushed and numb.  Then, the shocking news of the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances, which had to be seen to be believed. These events – after all – would not only affect the disciples; they would change the world.  So the thought of a fishing trip to clear the mind and reset their souls makes sense to me.

And look at it this way: Jesus had trained and commissioned them, to carry on his message and ministry in the world. The same message and ministry that had gotten him crucified! So, on the one hand, change the world; on the other, go fishing.  Fishing; change the world. Fishing it was! After what we learned in our Lenten series, The Way, about the influence of the Sea of Galilee upon Jesus and his disciples, is it any surprise that they should wind up back there, fishing?

Most of us understand – and hopefully have learned from experience – that sometimes the best thing we can do is to return to what we know, to what we love. After physically and emotionally taxing experiences, sometimes what we most need to do is whatever calms and resets us: to be with family or friends, exercise, take a walk, listen to music, or even sit in silence.  When I was a paramedic, after stress paramedic calls, such as those involving fatal crashes, how healing it was to come home and listen to calming music, or even to sit in silence. What does it for you?

One thing about fishing, however, is that it can give you a lot of time to think, especially when you don’t catch anything. Peter, especially, had a lot to think about, given that he had denied even knowing Jesus. Maybe that’s what’s underlies his impetuous behavior of jumping into the sea, once he heard it was “The Master.”  But you have to wonder if his strokes slowed as he neared the shore, wondering how this was going to turn out?

But I think, of all the messages intended and embedded in this story, some are quite basic, and apply to both ancient and modern day disciples of Jesus, to us as well as to them.  It is another way of returning to what we know.

The risen Christ comes to us where we are, amidst the scenes of our ordinary lives. And he comes to us as we are, needy, overwhelmed, even spiritually naked, as Simon Peter was. When he comes, he comes not with rebuke, but with forgiveness, grace, and re-commissioning – as many times as it takes – for the tasks to which he has called us. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we fail often. Like them, without his help, we do a lot of fishing, without catching anything. We may even keep doing what we’ve always done – casting on the left side rather than the right side – even though the results are always the same, and have only empty nets to show for it.

When we come to Jesus, he takes what we bring, whether bread and fish, bread and wine, or ourselves and our gifts, and blesses them, and offers them back to us, in his service.  Eventually – when we become wiser – we discover it isn’t about us at all, but others.  Jesus message to Peter was not “You are forgiven,” but “Feed my sheep.” The forgiveness part was implied; the “Feed my sheep” part was imperative.  If Peter was to be the Rock on whom the Church was built, as the leader he had to set the example: “feed my sheep.” Not only the sheep in the fold, but those other sheep, yet to come, those we don’t even know about.

So it is a strange story, but also a wonderful story. It’s not just a story about what happened back then, but what still happens, now, in our lives, as we seek to be Jesus’ disciples today. We’re all in this story, all still out there on that beach, gathered around that fire, being fed by Jesus, and commanded to feed his sheep.

I conclude with one of my favorite quotes, which I never get tired of hearing, because I find it so true. It is from the great musician/ missionary/theologian Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965), who said – of this strange and wonderful story:

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not.  He speaks to us the same words:  “Follow thou me!” and set us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”  (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906, p. 40.)  Amen.


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