Notes for Sunday, April 22, 2007 at 10:00 AM at the Marbury Church of God
The text: John 21:1-19
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.
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.
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.” Jesus 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.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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.
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
These disciples had a lot going for them. They had been with Jesus for the length and breadth of his ministry; they had not only seen him heal and perform miracles, but had been among those whom he sent out two by two to heal and perform miracles in his name. They had returned to him with joy, reporting that even the demons were subject to them in the name of Jesus. They had eaten of the multiplied loaves and fishes. They had heard his private explanations of his public teaching, the keys and meanings to the parables with which he taught the crowds. They had gone place to place with him, and had entered Jerusalem with him on that final, fateful week where he spent his time teaching in the temple. They had been with him at the last supper, heard him re-interpret for him the Passover celebration, received his instructions about the new covenant. He had washed their feet. Then they had gone with him to the garden of Gethsemane, seen him pray in agony, seen him arrested, taken away, spat upon, lied about, accused of outrageous things, and sentenced to die; and they had seen him die, heard him utter the words of forgiveness from the cross. They had gathered in a huddle, fearful of whether they would be the next target of the authorities, and had then been confronted, first with reports, then with more confirmations that he was alive, and finally with Jesus himself, present with them, showing them his scars, teaching them again, filling their hearts with joy, commissioning them to forgive sins in his name and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
They knew his presence; had received his Spirit; had learned of his power, that it was for them to use to spread the message of forgiveness of sin. But still these disciples, blessed and enriched as they were with all of their experience of Jesus, had no clear purpose. They had all of this going for them, and just weren’t really sure what to do with it. Finally, after a few weeks they had begun to scatter, each to tend, no doubt, to their own affairs, the things in their lives that perhaps had been left behind when they had first forsaken all to follow him. Our scene opens back up in Galilee, by the lake where Jesus had first called several of them. Seven of the eleven are there, perhaps all members of that fishing community: Simon, Thomas, James and John, Philip, Nathaniel, and two others… and they are about to do what people do. Lacking a clear purpose driving them, they just go back to what they are good at, what they enjoy, what they know. They’re fishermen all, and starting with Peter, they are going fishing. He takes the lead, they all get in the boat, and….. nothing.
There is a stage in the life of the church where we can be fully instructed, fully empowered, fully filled with the experience of walking with Jesus and being in his presence, but we still all have our own ideas of what we’re good at, and what way we should best spend our time. We can use our expertise, gathering with some subset of people we get along well with…. not now all the people of God, maybe, but the ones who are most like us, with whom we share both spiritual and natural bonds, who share our interests and abilities…. and we can get involved in things that seem like a good idea; only to find that after a whole night of toil, there is nothing to show.
Into this situation Jesus again appears. He’s not going to scold them for going back to fishing, even though he had called them, once, away from that life. He just asks, calling from a distance: “Children, have you any fish?” Did you catch anything? Are you being successful?
They have to admit: No luck so far.
The situation is much like that first encounter he had with them by that very lake, when he had called Simon and Andrew and James and John to follow him. That time also, after a fruitless night, he had instructed them in how to do what they did best. This time he tells them where to cast their net, and what a catch they suddenly have!
When we attend to the voice of Jesus, success will follow us even in our ordinary tasks.
Now we have two disciples, namely the one identified as “the disciple who Jesus loved— that would be John, who is now telling us this story — and Peter, who begin to suspect that this is Jesus. They both were there that other time, and this event is just too uncannily similar. So John gives Pete a heads up, and Peter, remembering perhaps so many of his faults, has no time any more for fish — he wastes no time in getting to Jesus. Perhaps here we begin to have a clue how he is to emerge as the leader of this group.
The relationship with Jesus is more important even than the task at hand.
So the blessing and instruction of our Lord gives them success in what they have set out to do: the net contains a hundred and fifty-three large fish. He invites them to bring the fruit of their success, but look: Jesus does not depend on their work or their effort for his own provision for them. Yes, their labors have brought them a lot of fish, but Jesus himself has already cooked breakfast.
He’ll do for us infinitely more, even in the meeting of our daily needs, than any effort of ours can do for ourselves or for him.
So now that they know that he can provide for their personal needs, that purpose for their lives is off the table. He can feed them, can prepare for them a feast without labor on their own part. So now, the question turns in a very personal way to what the purpose of their lives is going to be. For the world, the purpose is survival, doing one’s own work, getting successful. He has set all that aside, because success is not an issue, daily sustenance is not an issue, he’s got all of that covered. So now comes the crucial conversation.
Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
Do you love me more than the familiar things of your life? Do you love me more than the friends you grew up with, the people you enjoy working with? Do you love me more than the work you love to do? Or am I just, perhaps, one more thing for you to add to your list of familiar, enjoyable interests?
do you love me…. more than these?
Yes, Lord, he says….. you know I love you.
Then, says Jesus: Feed my lambs.
No longer is the purpose of Peter’s life to feed himself, or his family, or the friends he loves to go fishing with. Jesus has shown this very morning that all of those needs are well within the divine capability to meet. Now Peter has a new mandate, a new purpose, which is to grow directly out of this special relationship he has with Jesus: Feed my lambs.
How we want to show our love for Jesus in our own private worlds, whether with worship and praise and private prayer, whether with celebrating with family and friends the familiar things that make our lives so blessed! How we so tend to be satisfied to be among the seven disciples that we know how to get along with, figuring those others can get along fine on their own! How satisfied we can be, thinking yes Lord, I love you, and I love the comfort of my life….. until he challenges us with the question, Do you love me more than these? If you truly love me, feed my lambs.
Some of the lambs are strays, that must be found. Some are sick or wounded, and must be tended. Some will need such comfort from you that they will not immediately give comfort to you. But if you love me, he asks again and gives the answer twice more: Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.
You have been called by Christ, and your life is not your own. You have given it away freely when you received his love and declared your love for him. Your purpose is no longer to provide for your convenience, to do what you know best, to stay with the familiar. You have a purpose that will bring you beyond yourself, and it may mean that in the end the needs of others will prevail over your own. The Christ who was crucified, now risen from the dead, calls you to share with him in the willingness to set aside your own will, your own purpose, for the purpose of the tending of the ones he calls his own. They’re not yours, necessarily; but they’re in his flock. “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold,” he said back in his prayer in John 17.
The church’s purpose: to tend his lambs, to feed his sheep, to care for Christ’s beloved in the name of Jesus, though it cost us our comfort and our familiar ways.
These things are worth loving, but he asks: “do you love me more than these?”
These seven disciples soon rejoined the other four, and the dozens more that formed that first community; and not many days after these events, the power of the gospel went forth with purpose. There’s no record that Peter or the others ever went fishing again, and no record that they regretted it either. They set themselves to live the love for Christ that they professed.