Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An Enduring Menu...



OUR BIBLE study for the third week of Easter comes to us from the Epilogue of the Gospel According to Saint John. In this final chapter which closes the gospel, we see that the Resurrected Christ Jesus supplied an echo to his followers from an earlier event, and thus provided his church with a glimpse of their future in ministry. We read…

After this, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberi-as; and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathana-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 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 as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered him, "No."
 He said to them, "Cast the net on 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, for the quantity of 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 his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang 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, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying 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 and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 
 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 
 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." 
 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me."  (John 21:1-19)


The Same, But Not the Same
In our study for this week, we read that our Lord Jesus gathered those who seemingly had assumed that even after all revelation they witnessed, life was to go on as before Jesus’ ministry began. They adopted a “business as usual” lifestyle.  However, the Epilogue of John revealed otherwise are the plans of God.
 First, we see in the text a recollection that Jesus had done the fisherman’s evening dinner event previously with his followers. We know of at least one other occasion recorded in Luke 5:1-11. There we find that Jesus acted similarly when the disciples were called into the work of the kingdom. Indeed, much ministry had occurred around the shores of the lake, thus it may be safely assumed that such an occasion had happened regularly for them. Fishing was their main source of communal sustenance. Dinners were a celebratory custom. The Lukan telling of this familial event is shorter and likely earlier in calendar than John. Therefore I believe that we may assume that in John, the message of this Epilogue’s later, longer, more detailed gathering contained an additional message. The event stressed that the death and Resurrection of Jesus had not changed the call of his infant church. As the infant church had done, so it would continue to do.
 Please note the symbolism used by the Johannine writer. Again the catch is bountiful only when Jesus’ instructions were followed. We note that the great beach meal site was already prepared by Christ. It included fire, bread and fish, to which the catch of the disciples was added. Thus described in John, based upon the Lukan gathering, we may postulate that the fish already present for the meal represented the disciples themselves; whereas, the fish they caught on that post-Resurrection day… prophetically depicted those who are to be brought together in the future gathering of his infant church. Therefore, on this prophetic occasion… the followers are shown as those persons Jesus had called… who would still gather, be fed in community, be empowered to continue their witnessing… in spite of their own, self-perceived human limitations.
 This claim I make is based upon the subsequent Johannine record of the conversation between Jesus and Peter. Here it is revealed how the mind of those in the church who seemed to be stuck in denial, as though the divine occurrence had changed nothing. It revealed that the disciples were in need of empowerment. Jesus’ dialog with Peter revealed this sinful captivity.
 When we read the text in English, we miss a very important Johannine nuance that demonstrates the point. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me..., and in doing so in the Greek language, John related that the word “agape” is used for “love”. This word is normally used to describe only a perfect or “divine” love. Peter answers Jesus in the affirmative, but instead he answered using the word “phileo” which means “brotherly” love. This indicated that he loved Jesus as a “brother”, so John subtly revealed that Peter had not even yet fully apprehended his teacher’s divinity as the Messiah. Peter then heard the call to feed the lambs.
 Jesus repeated the question to Peter. Here it is not that Jesus’ misunderstands the first answer. Rather, this indicated that Jesus was not getting the answer our Lord wanted. Such was the infant church’s denial and inability. For the second query, Jesus received the same response from Peter. Jesus then repeated the feeding admonition, but Peter is now progressively responsible for feeding the not just lambs, but the whole flock..
 Finally, it seemed as though Jesus relents of the testing. He asked Peter thus a final time, in almost an echo of that found in the earlier writing of Mark where he asked the disciples three times, “Who do you say that I am? But in this finality, Jesus conceded the lesson and uses the disciple’s “brotherly” love term.
 Now, it seems to a casual observer of the original writing that Jesus, possibly out of love, accepted that his disciples cannot yet quite grasp the meaning of his divinity. As the discourse continued, our Lord told his apostolic leader about an event that had already occurred by the writing of this gospel witness.
 You see, empowered unto the fullness of faith by the Spirit given at Pentecost, Peter and the other disciples successfully had begun great founding works of the kingdom. They already had encountering great amounts of risk and injury in their travels. When at last finally imprisoned, Peter was crucified unto death near Rome (c.68AD). We note also with astounding significance, that his brothers in the faith inherited similar persecution in other geographic locations. And they had faithfully, fed the sheep.

Being Fed for Mission!
We gather then that the final words of Jesus to his followers on that beach, which gave us an early Eucharistic meal format, were yet called to simply follow him. Therefore as we who are now his followers enjoy the same Eucharistic remembrance, and the actuality of Christ’s presence in the meal, we take away from this reading the same sure call. We receive the same admonition and instructions that he gave to the disciples on that day. The Risen Son of God, who yet gathers, enlightens and empowers his church through the Spirit of Pentecost, calls us to rise through the power of our baptism. Indeed, we who have now received covering for sinful, self reliant nakedness by wading through baptismal water now have this wondrous gift given by Jesus. Held closely in our minds and hearts, we carry the gift through heavy seas of sin and poor days of catch… until his glorious naves are full indeed. We are called to cast our nets, row our boats, and wade in deep waters… knowing it shall be through the enduring power supplied by Spirit of God that placed persons around the warming fire of God’s love. So it is written, so shall it be.



                                                   


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