3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019
Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30:2,-6, 11-13; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21 1:1-19
At the opening of today’s Gospel, Peter and 7 of the other apostles are still reeling from the shock of the crucifixion and are still not entirely sure just exactly what happened afterwards. When we lose someone very dear to us, we may also fear that we have no hope for the future. That is how they felt: hopeless, without a future, empty inside, lost. So it doesn’t surprise us that the 8 men, like a bunch of mother-less boys, don’t know what to do. They do what they always did before – they went fishing, maybe for something to eat, maybe make a little money, mostly, just for something to do, something they were used to, that brought back good memories, and something that didn’t demand their confused brains to work very hard.
But night turns into morning, and no fish had been sighted; nothing. A voice calls out an Aramaic word which means something like lads, or guys, a name for young men. And the voice tells them to fish on the other of the boat.
Now isn’t that just like real life. We can be so close to success, to making sense of our lives, to achieving an important goal, and we never think of making a small adjustment that might bring success. I was an employment counselor for 13 years, and oversaw job training programs. I saw people make foolish decisions, do things they knew would ruin their chance for finishing the training, when they were close to the end. We all tend to have a habit of fishing out of just one side of the boat, to keep things from changing. We continue to flounder because we keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work anymore.
We need the voice of Jesus in our lives to lead us to good alternatives. I can’t tell you how many times Jesus has offered me solutions to really hard situations – ideas I never would have considered, but ideas that were absolutely brilliant and successful yet at the same time simple. John recognized Jesus by what he did – Jesus changed one small detail which made everything different. That is how Jesus tends to move in our lives, not with fireworks, but a gentle nudge.
Jesus is on the beach with another charcoal fire. Do you remember the first charcoal fire we read about in John’s Gospel? The first fire warmed Peter in Caiaphas’s courtyard when, as predicted, Peter denies Jesus three times. Today John tells us about this second charcoal fire, where Jesus invites Peter to seek forgiveness for his 3 denials by declaring his love three times. Each time Jesus asks Peter to act out that love by service: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” He then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Social justice ministry is important, but sometimes that ministry takes us where we might not want to go, we might work with people we don’t understand or even like, we will seeing suffering that is hard to witness and calls us to give more of ourselves than we had planned on. Serving Jesus means loving our enemies, like the Roman oppressors, like the narrow-minded Pharisees. You know people today that you could call your enemies. What Jesus asks is easy to say and very hard to do (or we would do it).
I am once again astounded by the way Jesus handles this reconciliation. I know of no one that would be so gentle, yet at the same time so firm. A man I know has the most active prayer life I have ever encountered. He tells me he has never experienced such gentleness as the gentleness of Jesus. But, on the other hand, he when he tries to describe the power and strength of Jesus, he is at a loss for words, and just shakes his head, amazed. I think that is the Jesus that this passage describes. Jesus addresses Peter with 4 simple words “Do you love me?” Peter offers his whole heart with his reply, “You know that I love you.”
Those words bring Peter to tears – and complete and lasting change. This is literally a point of life change for Peter. He could have ended up taking his own life out of remorse, as Judas did. Judas could have come to face Jesus and lived, but he didn’t. Judas believed the lie that his sin was too great. Surely his betrayal was a sin, but the real sin was to turn his back on Jesus and refuse to believe that Jesus has the power to forgive our sin. Do we have what it takes to forgive those who have hurt us? Do we have what it takes to face our failings and ask for forgiveness? Do we understand that our sins, our failures, our moments of greed and self-absorption can lead us to a point of life change? The very worse mistakes in our lives can bring us blessings untold when we take them to Jesus.
Our 1st reading from Acts therefore has a totally transformed Peter, saying to the very same High Priest he was so very fearful of not long before, “We must obey God rather than man” and so bolding finding joy in suffering threats and dishonor for being true to Jesus. He not only returns to be an apostle, a follower of Jesus, but moves ahead, and moves to the “other side of the boat” – leadership. One side of the boat there was a gentle call; moving to the other side of the boat, there was the power to create a multitude of fish where there were none before. So Peter moves on to publicly witnesses to the Risen Christ, a true fisher of mankind.
After Easter, we can return to the world we were used to, seeming unchanged. Maybe that’s why we have 7 Sundays of Easter Season. It gives us time to face a living, resurrected Jesus, and a world where life does triumph over death. It gives us time to hear a call from the beach, to witness the miracle of Jesus’ power. It gives us time to move to the other side of the boat and recognize Jesus for who he is. It gives us time to draw near to Jesus at the charcoal fire, sinners as we are, and be given the gifts of reconciliation and forgiveness. There we can proclaim a new level of love and desire to take the love given to us to all the people who are lost sheep in this world. My friends, the sheep are waiting!