Our Gospel reading is challenging. First of all, it almost looks like an appendix – an afterthought. If you look at the ending of Chapter 20 in John’s Gospel it says: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” Now that sounds like a final ending to me. So Chapter 21 is almost as if when the author – or maybe some other author –read out what was written to his community, someone said, “Oh, but you’ve left out a really important bit. You’ve simply got to put it in. Everyone needs to hear it”. So, if the writer agreed that it was important, let’s think about it a little.
The companions of Jesus found themselves in a totally new place of living. They reacted as we almost always react at first to dramatic change. They wanted to blank it out – to go back to what they were used to. Just as we do in these days of lockdowns and mandates and sudden changes in the way we communicate with our families and communities. The apostles probably wanted to be with family and friends in the place they had called ‘home’ for most of their lives. They wanted to find themselves doing familiar things. Possibly they may even have decided that before they made any radical changes, they needed to think things over; to weigh the risks. Also, of course, they wanted to remove themselves from a volatile danger zone. Back home in a small village was much safer than in Jerusalem. But – and this is always the result of change – they found that the challenge wasn’t going to let them alone. Jesus wasn’t going to let them alone. The changes followed them home. What had happened was going to change the landscape.
As I reflected last week, God comes to God’s people in many ways – and not necessarily because we have invited God in. That’s one of the most dramatic differences from the pagan religions of the ancient world. The old gods needed to be bribed, or propitiated. Hence the hundreds of temples dotted around the landscapes in the Roman world. The people knew where to go with particular requests. But – for us, God seeks us and finds us and holds us. But we don’t always recognise God. In all the post-Easter stories that recognition or rather, the non-recognition of Jesus is a constant theme. And remember how recognition and response comes in different ways. We see that again in today’s story. John – at least we assume it was John – stayed still, caught in wonder perhaps; Peter leapt out of the boat and rushed at Jesus. The others made sure that the precious catch of fish wouldn’t be lost. This isn’t to say that one way is better than any other – it’s to acknowledge that we’re not all the same in our responses! Nor are we likely to respond in the same way every time. We’re much more likely to vacillate between reflective and impetuous. It also warns us that there would be a good chance that we’d be slow to recognise Jesus if he appeared in front of us!
This gospel passage is highly symbolic of course. There are all sorts of echoes. The lakeshore picnic takes us back to the feeding of the five thousand, and also, I think, to the ‘last meal’, where Jesus was the host who broke the bread and poured the wine. In fact, the writer is making the point that what we call the ‘Last Supper’ wasn’t the last meal Jesus had with his friends. It also makes the point that Jesus continued to supply what the disciples needed to equip them for their mission. Jesus continues to supply us with what we need for our lives and our work. He continues to share in our table fellowship and gifts us with what we need for our life and work.
Then there’s the repetition of the question to Peter ‘Do you love me?’ That not only redeems Peter’s threefold denial, but reminds us that the grace of God is much more significant and important than our human failings. Peter is a portrait of someone whom God commissions to ministry and mission, even though his life up until then has been marked by impetuosity and denial. Not that there will be any security in that mission – life won’t be an easy ride for Peter!
Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish
21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.[a] It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Now what does all this say to us, here and now. I think it challenges us to take change seriously. We in Christchurch have a peculiar advantage here. Our earthquake brought us into a new environment. Once that long-dormant fault-line under our city woke from sleep, there was no going back to the way things were before. It’s not a case of patching up the old; it’s a requirement to build and repair responsibly in a new way. And we know the cost of all that.
But in a way, this is one of the easier challenges, because we know that building safer homes is a way to go to build stronger community – in more than physical ways. All our church congregations also faced another sort of challenge, this time over their particular mission in the places and times they occupy. And, over the years, congregations have chosen how to rebuild or re-configure, and there’s no going back from those decisions. At least, not immediately! We can’t continue in the familiar and ‘safe’ ways of the past. We have to find new ways of carrying the light of Christ into our communities, and we know it won’t be easy.
And, at the same time, over these past years we’ve all faced another shift in the ground under our feet. We have seen the tragic results of hate that’s been festering underground. First in the Mosque murders and now in the anti-vaccers. We can’t any more pretend that this little country of ours is a safe place for all people, and we can’t close our eyes to the work that we all have to do to build inclusive community. And let’s not forget that there are other forms of violence that we can too easily avert our eyes from.
It’s not just interfaith clashes. Some of the disputes that have been bubbling in the background in our own Christian faith communities are now in the open, and have caused fragmentation in most of our denominations. And, finally, let me share something that I’ve been involved with this past week. For the past two decades, the Tauiwi partner of our Methodist church (that’s the everybody else partner of our officially bicultural church) has been grappling with the issue of sexuality and leadership. Nearly 12 years ago, Conference said that because Tauiwi was still ‘not of a mind’ to answer Te Taha Maori’s question: “When will Tauiwi accept a gay or lesbian president?” a group would be established to work towards finding a way to have ‘meaningful’ discussions of ‘the issue’. I’ve been on that multicultural and diverse group. We met several times. We found a way to have honest conversations and to share experiences, and to trust each other. We offered to share our experiences with Synods. But -we were hardly ever invited to any Synod to do this. We not doing well.
At a recent Conference ordination service, when the Communion servers were assembling in the presence of the gathered congregation, one of the Tongan leaders accosted the person responsible for setting up communion – which is a table at which all are welcome. And said – and all those nearby could hear: “I thought those people were not going to be serving any Tongans.” Those people included some of our respected leaders. And I would class this as hate speech that crossed the line. All of us in our small group found this a traumatic experience. And then another of our members shared something that happened at our Youth Conference – although I would say that our youth have a more honest way of working through these issues than some of us!
I thought long and hard about sharing this with you this morning, but I think we all need to be reminded that we still have a lot of work to do. The Methodist Church has a Memorandum of Understanding in Church Law (think of your Book of Order) that recognises the ordination of gay and lesbian Presbyters. We say we are an inclusive church. We follow in the way of one who shared meals with all whom he met with on his way. We have to live out our declarations of inclusiveness – and when we find it difficult, we have to take the time to work at what we mean by it.
It’s rather like racism. We’re all racist. After the Mosque murders, a young friend of mine who happens to be married to a man who is half black American and half Samoan, said to me: “I always thought I wasn’t racist but since this happened, I realised that I am! I don’t like Chinese people.
And now the pandemic has brought a whole lot more of that seething underworld of hatred to the surface. Some of it erupts in violence that has been nurtured by fake news and most of it is exacerbated by the internet which we now seem to be inextricably entangled with. We have a lot of work to do! The first step in tackling an issue as deep as this is recognising that we have a problem – and then doing something about it.
Easter is the season when we can take stock of where we are and re-commit ourselves to Christ’s mission. This Epilogue to the Gospel of John that we heard this morning is a dramatic appeal to us not to reduce Christ and the wonders of his ministry to a story in the past: not to leave the Gospel in a time and place long ago and far away. It reaffirms the prologue to John’s Gospel: ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’
For us in our time and place that means that we are reminded that no darkness of our failures or denials can ever extinguish the light. Christ – the living Christ – still feeds and empowers us. Jesus will ask us again and again: “Do you love me?” And he will go on supplying us with what we need to live out an affirmation of love. The real-life drama of Christ is continuing and we are part of it all.
Rev Dr Barbara Peddie; 1 May 2022