Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

Sunday’s Gospel from John sets the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples amidst ordinary circumstances: the disciples have returned to their old routines.  

Even after encountering the resurrected Jesus twice already, they seem at loose ends.  They seem restless, uncertain what to do, so they go fishing!  They’ve moved from the empty tomb to their boats, from the house in Jerusalem to the familiar waters of the Sea of Tiberias.  They’ve traveled some 70 or 80 miles from the place of Jesus’ resurrection and given themselves over to their former trade of fishing.  They return to the same boats, the same nets, the same water, the same work.  That’s when and where Jesus “revealed himself.”  On the beach.  Of all places.

Jesus, unrecognized by the disciples, appears on the beach, calls out to them and asks, “Children, have you any fish?”  “No” they answer.  Empty nets.  No fish, no life.  The emptiness is not the end or a failure but a beginning.

“Children, have you any fish?” is more a statement than a question.  Jesus is not asking for a fishing report.  He is commenting on the reality of Peter’s and the other disciples’ disposition.  Peter is fishing on the Good Friday side of the boat and the net is empty; the nets of dark night fishing contain nothing to nourish life.

Had they been fishing on the wrong side of the boat?  Jesus seems to think so. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” Jesus says, “and you will find some”.   This movement of the net from one side of the boat to the other is a great passover.  “So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.”

Jesus then says, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught,” and Peter jumps back into the water and hauls the net full of large fish ashore.  There are two details to notice here.  First, Jesus doesn’t need their fish.  He is already cooking while their nets are still empty.  But when they follow his commands, he invites them to add their fish to the food he has already prepared.  He combines what he provides with what we offer of ourselves.  And in the offering of the efforts and fruits of their labor to what Jesus already possessed, the disciples yield an abundance.

As the Gospel continues and notes Peter’s three –fold confession of faith, it is easy to see the connection between his earlier three denials of knowing Jesus and these three professions of loyalty and devotion.  It is also easy to see why Peter is hurt when Jesus asks him a third time, “Do you love me?” “You know everything, Lord.  You know that I love you,” Peter insists.

What might not be so easy to see is the way Jesus draws Peter into a new relationship through this brief conversation.  Recall that when Peter was in the high priest’s courtyard, he didn’t deny the divinity of Jesus or Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.  What Peter denied was his own relationship to Jesus . When he is asked three times, “You are one of his disciples, aren’t you?” Peter says, “I am not.”  Now, as they converse together beside the lake, Jesus not only restores that relationship, but creates a new one between himself and Peter.  By the third time he questions “Simon, son of John” he is asking for more than general compassion or affection.  Peter’s distress is almost as important as his words. “You know everything, Lord.  You know I love you” – in essence, you know all my failings and my weaknesses, and you know my sin.

“Feed my sheep,” Jesus tells him.  Up to this point, Jesus has portrayed himself as the Good Shepherd.  Now he entrusts the care of his flock to Peter.  It isn’t that sheep have replaced fish in importance, but now shepherding has been added to fishing. 

Jesus shook Peter out of his familiar routine and we never hear of him fishing again.  The next time we meet Peter is in the Book of Acts where the former fisherman is leading a group of believers and later, is addressing huge crowds at Pentecost with such eloquence and inspiration that “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” 

All these days later, after the Resurrection, the last place we might expect to find the Lord of lords and King of kings is on a beach frying fish and bread.

Is this what life in this world looks like after Easter?  Is this how the resurrected Son of God behaved while physically still on this earth?  Nothing earth-shattering there.

Often we assign to the resurrected Jesus cosmic meaning and rightly so, but seem to discount or dismiss his appearance in so ordinary a place as a beach and performing so common a task as cooking.  But we probably need to see Jesus in exactly the everyday set of circumstances that John depicts; after all, is that not where we encounter the Savior, as well?  We don’t need a stained-glass Jesus who is other-worldly.  We need Jesus in the kitchen, “amid the pots and pans” as Theresa of Avila put it.  We need Jesus on the beach, and in the office, in the car with us, and at school.  We need—and have— a Savior who accompanies us on our everyday journeys, who sees us in ordinary circumstances, and who speaks into those times and places.

Resurrection does not happen apart from the routines of life but in them.  Resurrection is not about escaping life but about becoming alive.

This Gospel passage concludes with Jesus ending the conversation the same way he began his relationship with Simon and the other fishermen at the start of his ministry, “Follow me,” he says.

“Follow me,” Jesus calls to us now.  Whether we are fishing, or herding, or simply living as one of his sheep, the Gospel suggests we may need to change the way we’ve been viewing and doing things.

“Follow me” is the invitation to examine where we have been fishing.  On which side of the boat do we fish?  On which side of the cross do we live –  Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday?

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Adult Formation Ministry