Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
John 21 1-19; Acts 9: 1-6
2016 Easter 3 Virey
This period of a few short weeks between Jesus’ miraculous resurrection and his ascension into heaven must be the most challenging for any believer to explain. It is the most inexplicable thing and I wish we could read what St Paul says about it every day.
Paul does not try to explain the phenomenon, but he does produce enough eyewitnesses to the fact, so that we can be sure of its veracity. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians “He was raised on the third day… he appeared to Ceophas (that is Peter), then the 12, after that to more than 500, then to James, all the apostles and last to me (Paul).” Which is the reference of the short passage from Acts. Each week during the Easter season, we read of time when people saw him, spoke to him, touched him, shared food with him, learned from him. Each encounter is different, but each is significant and (you cannot argue with 500 people) we can be sure that it is true.
Today we read this amazing story of 7 of the disciples going fishing.
How long after the visit to the upper room we don’t know, nor do we really know what caused Peter and six of the others to go fishing again. We might imagine their emotions, Jesus was gone, and they did not know what to do next. Yes, they had seen him in their hiding place, but now where was he? What to do next? Back to work, I suppose, so off they went walking the few days that it took to get back to Galilee. Sort out the boat, check the nets and go fishing. And they caught nothing.
I don’t know if you like fishing, Mike is a very enthusiastic fisherman and when we take walks by the side of any water, he looks for fish, engaging any other fisherman he meets in conversation, “Caught anything?” is always the opening salvo. Then he will be offered a peep in the net to admire the catch.
Here we have seven professional fisherman, they have been out all night (apparently, that’s when fish like to eat and are easier to catch), but the chaps had caught nothing. They can see a man on the shore and he shouts the standard greeting, “Caught anything?”
Has life really gone back to the normal that existed before Jesus came on the scene? Can that happen to any of us? An encounter with Jesus and then just go back to our old lives? We know it cannot; and it has not happened to the disciples, either.
Because the next part of the conversation is not the standard fare. I have never, ever heard an instruction like the one Jesus gave. “Throw the net over the other side of the boat”. As if! Fisherman will all know that it just does not work like that under the normal rules of the universe.
But these men are used to obeying strange commands, so they do as they are bid and catch one hundred and fifty three fish. Now, that is a very precise number – 153; did they really count them out and write it down? If I tell you that ichthyologists of that time believed that there were exactly 153 species of fish in the whole world – can you see some sort of symbolic meaning to the catch?
Didn’t Jesus once say “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”? Could the catch of all the known species of fish in the world represent all the known peoples and races of mankind in the world? Possibly. If we read our bible looking for symbolism, then certainly. And fish play such an important part of the story telling, don’t they? It’s not always about sheep! The fish were predominant at the feeding to the 5000; it’s not surprising that the sketched outline of a fish became the secret symbol of early persecuted Christians, never mind the play on words that the Greek gives us. We, too, are fishers of men; and the whole world is ours where we can cast our nets in our role of “fishers of men”.
And then breakfast. This meal is sometimes called the Last Breakfast, reflecting the Last Supper. But the Last Supper was before his death and now we are seeing a resurrected Lord – so possibly this should be the First Breakfast!
Now I am coming to the most important section of the text.
Jesus has a conversation with Peter. Peter – previously Simon – the rock on which Jesus will build his church. John always refers to himself as the “disciple that Jesus Loved” - but Peter holds a different and very special place in Jesus’ heart. Peter was not a well-educated man. He was not, like Paul, lined up for high places in the church. Not for him the long debates of words found in the scriptures. A simple fisherman; big, bluff, bold; fearless at times, a natural leader. But…
But, Peter had shown his weakness when he denied all knowledge of Jesus at the gate of the Sanhedrin. Three times, as Jesus had said that he would; three times, Peter said that he did not know the man. Three times, before the cock crowed. And (as Luke records) Jesus turned and looked straight at him. So Peter knows that Jesus knows. It has not been mentioned, but he knows; does he wonder, does he think, “Well, I’ve blown it now, how can I be part of this great work?”
Jesus does not refer to past mistakes. In fact, Jesus very rarely dwells on anyone’s past mistakes. He might let people know that he knows, but as far as Jesus is concerned, if you stand before him repentant, then he will not berate you, he will always forgive you. Remember that.
What does he do?
He asks Peter if he loves him. Three times. I don’t have to tell you that the three repetitions are significant. Of course, I don’t. But it’s exciting all the same. “Simon”, he says, “do you love me more than these?” (these what, the fish? His friends? Who?)
“Yes, you know I do,” replies Peter.
Three times denied, and three times reaffirmed. And three times commanded to feed the lambs, take care of the sheep. It cannot possibly be clearer. Peter can go out with confidence that he is worthy of doing God’s work. His lapse is forgiven, he is right with God. He can be the foundation of the church.
I am looking round at you now, and I see a group of people that I know Jesus loves dearly. I do not see perfect human beings, I see normal people with their own strengths and weaknesses. We are not perfect, we are still a “work in progress”. But God wants us and needs us to do his work on earth. We might feel unworthy at times, I know I do, but let’s try out that forgiveness for ourselves. Let’s reproduce that conversation for ourselves.
If any of you have never sinned, you do not need to take part in this little experiment. But if ever, in your life, you have sinned, denied Jesus, wobbled a bit in your faith, then answer these three questions that Jesus asks, by saying “Lord, You know I do”.
Congregation of Christ church in the Manche at Virey. Do you love me?
Lord you know I do,
Do you love me?
Lord you know I do.
Do you love me?
Lord you know I do.*
You know what to do know, don’t you? Feed the world – tell people, introduce them to Jesus, build up the church of God. You are forgiven, and you are empowered.
He is risen, alleluia.
*(For those reading this on the internet – say the responses aloud)