After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.John 21:1-14
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them,“Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them,“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him,“Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish.This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
It is the second week after Easter, and we keep telling stories about Jesus; which is a very good thing. Earlier this week I had lunch with Rabbi Andy, from Bolton Street Synagogue on Cold Spring Lane. They just finished Passover Services and are now on a 50 day journey through the wilderness to celebrate the delivery of the Law to Moses. Shavuot, or more familiarly, Pentecost, is what they call it.
We will end up in the same place, following a different route. I’ve been thinking about this through the week… and that there might be more in common with our respective journeys than we normally acknowledge.
As we generally characterize it, the Hebrew people wandered 40 years in the Sinai wilderness, loosed from Pharoah’s yoke, but now chafing at the hardships of life freed from the moorings of what was once a hard, but stable living situation. Life in the wilderness was not a picnic, even though they were now free.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to understand the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection in somewhat of a similar light. At least this is somewhat how it is that John describes the tone of this scene for us. Jesus’ disciples (well, seven of them) are in the midst of some wandering, fishing for the next thing to do, literally, and coming up empty handed.
Rabbi Andy and I talked about how it is that we continually share these thousands of year old stories and how they continue to have meaning and relevance today. Which is amazing. That’s why we call it Holy Scripture.
The stories are about human nature, which hasn’t changed at all; and God’s nature, which hasn’t changed, either.
So it goes that after Jesus has been raised, shows himself to the disciples in the Upper Room, and then reappears to Thomas to show his hands, feet and side, what do the disciples do? Go fishing. Mind you, this isn’t sport fishing, (that wasn’t done back then.) They went back to work, to ‘ply their trade’. Sure, Jesus had been raised and that was miraculous enough, but they had lost their leader.
Without Jesus around, they decide to return to their way of life before Jesus. (That’s also human nature- that’s what we all do.)
So seven of them go fishing. That’s an interesting number. In the ancient world ‘7’ was a ‘perfect’ number, and poetic too, but it was still incomplete. Where were the other disciples, anyway? Collecting taxes? Doing carpentry? Back on the farm, or in the olive grove?
This is one of the easiest of all Bible stories to picture in your mind’s eye… a small fishing boat out on the still blue lake, not too far out, close enough to shore to be able to see the outline of a person standing on the shoreline. The bright moon hovered overhead, they were out at night to be able to have fresh fish to sell at the market in the morning. But… there were no fish to find. They find themselves empty handed and dissapointed… that is, until the stranger on the shoreline yells to the men about how it’s going, and then for them to toss their net on the other side of the boat. Voila! There are enough fish to fill the net to overflowing! And the disciple with the keen eye, the one that Jesus loved, recognizes who that stranger is. Of course it’s Jesus! Quickly, Peter, ever impulsive, makes the first move.
He jumps in the lake and swims to shore. Why does he have to be first? Is he the one who feels the most guilty? Is he the most in need of forgiveness, and even rehabilitation for his threefold denial?
The other six disciples follow shortly, and then it’s a fish-fry with Jesus on the beach; charcoal roasted, with bread, too. Jesus asks Peter to bring more fish, and he goes out to personally haul in the net of 153 fish- just count ‘em! They just sit there, looking at each other, knowing full well that its Jesus there, not knowing how or why; but starting to feel caught up in something very important once again. My guess is there is a bit of sheepishness among this group of seven, maybe even a hint of guilt, too. Admitedly, they hadn’t been handed a guide of what to do after Jesus’ resurrection, but it still feels that somehow they’d been caught flat-footed. Fishing for fish is not exactly what Jesus had called them to do. They must have been wondering just why is was that Jesus was with them yet again. What was his agenda this time?
The Biblical scholar and ethicist H.Richard Niebuhr once wrote about the process of conversion. He defined it as the experience of finding that “the God you once feared as your worst enemy, is in truth your long-lost best friend.” This is what I think the disciples experienced in their early morning encounter with Jesus. Their Lord showed up, uninvited, but not unwelcome. Jesus appeared. The decision wasn’t for the disciples to make. Jesus took the initiative and made it for them. He was there for them, even after the disciples were drifting away, losing their attention and focus on all that Jesus had previously taught and shared with them.
Jesus was there, welcoming them, feeding them, reminding them of his guiding, redeeming, forgiving, accepting presence. It seems to have started to sink in. This third visit seems to begin take hold. It is a new beginning. Jesus is not a phantom but a friend.
This is where we begin, again, this morning. Jesus comes to us, even despite ourselves, and invites us to fellowship. Jesus joins us, forgives us for all our betrayals, all our wrong turns, all our denials, and invites us to a meal.
This is where and when we begin again; at this table, where we meet our Lord once again; flesh and blood, body and soul, ready to be with us not just today, but every day of our lives.
This is why we gather, to enjoy the presence of the Lord together, to be forgiven, and to be renewed to follow anew in Jesus’s spirit of love, mercy and justice. Amen.