Apr 9, 2016

3rd Sunday of Easter: "Why go fishing?"

(James Tissot: A meal of our lord and the apostles)

"Bring some of the fish you just caught"

There is probably no activity that demands more patience than that of fishing. Anyone who has gone fishing well knows that despite their personal efforts, there is no guarantee they will catch anything.  The factors may be the location, the weather, the temperature of the water, or the time of day. Growing up I well remember summer time on the lakes of northern Wisconsin and part of what we did was take out a boat and hope we would catch some delicious fresh water bluegill, sunfish, or the more elusive norther pike or bass. Frankly, it seems we always did! 

Still, part of the reason for fishing may not be to just catch fish but to simply enjoy the quiet on the lake, river or the majesty of the Ocean.  Yet for those who make a living through this activity hauling ashore a plentiful catch is essential.  Here on the northwest coast, crabbing is a favorite activity as well as salmon or halibut. 

Today’s Gospel (Jn 21: 1-19) is a favorite post-resurrection story which finds several of the disciples strangely returning to their previous way of life.  It may seem a bit out of place and we may wonder how they could have done so after seeing the risen Lord already twice before. The “ordinary” factor seems a bit out of character for the situation. Did they just forget what happened and who appeared to them?  Are they that dense? This is a favorite literary device that John uses but surely has some historical basis.

Yet, it serves a purpose.  For the disciples, even after the resurrection, it took time for them to wrap their heads, hearts and minds around its implications. From the shore, in the early morning light of dawn, they see someone. He suggests: “Cast your net over the right side of the boat . . .” Maybe this person can see something we don’t see?  So they do and they catch an abundance, so many fish in the net they “were not able to pull it in.”

Then, the scene dramatically changes: “So the disciple whom Jesus loved (John), said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” In that moment of recognition, they may have remembered a similar event about three years before when Jesus first called them and told them to do the same, with the same astonishing results (Lk 5: 4 – 11). 

Yet now it is the same Christ dead and risen who calls to them and they all rush to the shore to find an early morning breakfast cooking for them.  How often had Jesus fed the hungry crowds, gathered around a table at dinner time in the home of “sinners,” appeared to the disciples at Emmaus to break bread, shared a dark moment at the last supper but now all is light and new life. This is not the Last Supper on the night before his death it is now the first breakfast of new life at dawn.

So, the scene in itself is stunning as the disciples sat there, for the third time, before the risen Lord, when I might assume they were somewhat speechless.  After all, what could you say to the now risen Lord and in fact it seems John implies they may have said very little: “None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they realized it was the Lord.” As further proof this person before them was the same who walked and taught with them, Jesus: “took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.” Remember what he did not long before on the hillside before a massive crowd of thousands? Remember how he took that bread and fish and gave it to them?  (Mark 6 and John 6 for example). Yes, it is the same Christ Jesus who is now recognized, as Thomas earlier stated, as“Lord and God.” (Jn 20: 27-29).

So, this became a moment for Jesus to speak to them and Peter in particular.  As Peter denied knowing Jesus just a week or two before, our Lord now asks him: “Do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks Peter this question and three times Peter says: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” This love is an encounter with fellowship love, (agape) a commitment that brings about unity and community among God and his people.

As Jesus offers Peter redemption for his abandonment at Jesus’ darkest hour, he now offers Peter, and the other disciples as well, the commission to go and “feed my sheep.”

While Peter is of course first among the disciples, each of them in their own missionary journey, will plant the seeds of faith and the foundations of the Church and they will pay for it with their lives as Jesus did. In spite of their human frailty and ignorance, the risen Lord entrusts the treasure of the good news to them and to many beyond them.

Our first reading from Acts 5: 27-32 illustrates what an impressive transformation the resurrection experience finally made for these crucial men. In spite of fierce opposition and personal threats on their lives, Peter and the now apostles leave the Sanhedrin as Peter fearlessly states: “We must obey God rather than men . .  . so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the (Jesus’) name.”

And this may now bring to us.  We too gather around food and drink each Sunday.  There are the people of God, in all positions of leadership and responsibility, called to pastor God’s people.  Whether Pope, Bishop, priest, committed religious, lay single person or faithful married couple, we all share in that same missionary call to feed God’s “sheep” each in our own situation and moment in time.

At the celebration of the Eucharist we gather, we are fed by his Word and then Christ feeds us with himself.  And then we are sent to “announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

Jesus certainly knew that his disciples could never accomplish what he asked them to do on their own limited ability.  So, the Spirit is promised and eventually sent to be the keeper of truth and divine guide as we each discern what it is we have been sent to preach and live in the name of Christ the risen Lord. 

So, maybe fishing is one activity that can teach us patience.  But, it was also used by God to change the world.  Think of that the next time you look at a lake, river, or the vast Ocean itself or maybe even cast out for a catch.  

May your people exult for ever, O God, 
in renewed youthfulness of spirit,
so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption,
we may look forward in confident hope
to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Roman Missal: Collect of Mass)