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When we speak of Jesus revealing himself to his disciples following the resurrection, we often speak of "post-resurrection appearances." But I think we need to be careful in our use of words.
For one thing, to talk about "post-resurrection" or "after-resurrection" may give the idea that these events were somehow "after-thoughts" of God, and therefore either not that important, or of a different kind of importance.
On the one hand, they were different; but on the other hand, I believe that they were a part of a continuing ministry of Christ.
For one thing, the use of the word "appearances" may cause us to take these events too lightly, as if Jesus suddenly dropped in and then suddenly left. When, in fact, each so-called "appearance" is loaded with meaning.
This morning I would call your attention to Christ's third so-called "appearance."
"After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias."
And notice that we have moved from the seclusion, the hiding, in the upper room. The disciples are now out and about. And for Jesus to appear to them here will involve no magical moving through closed doors.
So who is here?
"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."
So we know that at least half of the original twelve are here. We should know who Simon Peter and Thomas are; the sons of Zebedee are the disciples James and John; and Nathanael of Cana was noted for saying of Jesus, before meeting him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" But I can't help but get the feeling that the disciples were in the midst of a transition. They were both hanging together and falling apart. Some were hanging together because they had been together for so long. But others have moved apart from the original twelve, perhaps back to the occupations they had held before beginning to follow Jesus.
And even those who are hanging together aren't quite sure what to do with themselves.
"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."
Nowadays, most of us probably think of fishing as a hobby, but I really doubt that in this scripture Peter is suggesting that the gang go off on a fishing trip just for the fun of it. Rather, I am more inclined to believe that this signals at least a CONSIDERATION of returning to the occupation which had been left to follow Jesus.
But in this verse we also sense the indecision and the lack of direction in the other disciples. They don't know what to do with themselves. So when Peter makes a decision, they follow him.
So, either it's a bad night, or they've forgotten how to fish. For there is no catch.
And, "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."
And at this point we should recall the eighteenth through the twenty-second verses of the fourth chapter of Matthew: "As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen.
And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him."
But this is not a rerun of that experience. "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."
Of course, Jesus could have used some variation of his "fish for people" line again, but it wasn't necessary. What WAS necessary was a more subtle sign. And that sign worked.
"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."
In the eighteenth verse of the sixteenth chapter of Matthew Jesus told Peter, "On this rock I will build my church."
And in spite of all Peter's shortcomings, Jesus was selecting a disciple who was eager and assertive, a disciple who continually demonstrated leadership, a disciple who strived to please Jesus.
"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."
But the hundred yards by boat dragging the net is too far for Peter. He is too eager to see Jesus. But what must he be thinking? Would he be thinking about the empty tomb he had entered? Would he be thinking about the denials he uttered on the day of the crucifixion? Would he be thinking of his lost faith as he attempted to walk across the water to Jesus? Would he be hearing again in his memory, "follow me, and I will make you fish for people?"
"When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread."
The meal has already been prepared, and Jesus has prepared it. In a sense we are re-living the meal in the upper room on the night when Jesus was betrayed. But Jesus has brought the meal to the disciples. And, as I said earlier, the word "appearance" can be deceiving. Because there is so much more involved in Jesus' presence before the disciples. Yet, the available fish and bread on the beach is not meant to be the total meal.
"Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."
For me, this is an extremely important verse for my understanding of holy communion. For when we celebrate the gift of Christ's body and blood given for us, we also bring to that celebration the gift of ourselves, a gift made richer through the instruction of Christ.
The fish we have caught, the gift of our lives, we bring to the celebration because Christ has made that gift possible. And in our liturgy we appropriately lift up our prayer of thanksgiving to God.
"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."
So why exactly one hundred fifty-three fish? Jerome has speculated that it was the total of the species of fish; so that, apparently, one of each kind of fish was in that net; that the disciples had symbolically caught ALL of the fish in that one catch.
Augustine discovered that the number one hundred fifty-three was the sum of the numbers one through seventeen, and that seventeen, in turn was the sum of the numbers ten and seven, symbolic of perfection.
"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."
Of course, John knew, having recognized Jesus from the boat. And Peter knew as soon as John told him. And most certainly Thomas, after the second appearance, would have recognized him.
So James and the other two disciples, even if they had doubts, probably accepted the recognition of these three. But how casual it all seems! "Come and have breakfast." And yet, how appropriate.
For Christ continually offers to us the invitation to break our fast, to cease our starving, and to be filled with Christ's love.
"Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish."
We are reminded here not so much of the event in the upper room as we are of the feedings of the multitudes on the hillsides, where Jesus blessed a few loaves and fishes and fed five thousand, with food left over. And in that reminder we should sense that even in the resurrected Christ the ministry continues. The need to feed God's people continues.
"This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead."
But this time is so much different. This time Jesus is a host to the disciples at a meal to which he has invited them. This time Jesus has performed a very special sign for the disciples. This time the appearance seems somehow more relaxed that the appearances in the upper room. And where the first two appearances were a kind of pulling together of the disciples, especially Thomas in the second appearance, this appearance moves beyond that.
If we look at Jesus ability to fill the nets with the fish, and we look back to his promise to make his disciples "fish for people," we should also see the symbolic power in this sign. Jesus continues to carry the power of that original promise.
"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."
But Jesus has heard this before. Jesus has heard Peter quickly and easily profess his love, dedication, devotion for Jesus. And then later turn around and deny him.
"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."
And at this point, Peter may have thought that Jesus simply did not hear him. Or he may have thought that Jesus just wanted to emphasize the question. In any case, it was no big deal, and Peter just repeated himself. "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." But isn't it interesting that both times we hear the same words: "You know."
And how is it, we might ask, that Jesus SHOULD know? Why should Jesus readily accept Peter's word?
"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."
And in this third asking we can also hear the echo of the three denials by Peter of Jesus. Because it was so easy for Peter to deny Jesus, Jesus is insistent on pressing Peter to affirm his love.
But Jesus has more to say to Peter.
"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."
And just as Jesus' words are prophetic, so were the words of Peter, who himself had said, "I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." And indeed he did so, being himself crucified.
But was this third appearance primarily to talk to Peter? I don't think so. Rather, I believe that there are three tests that we are continually running into. The first test is responding to the signs that God is continually trying to send us. For the disciples, it was the instruction to cast the net to the right side of the boat.
The second test follows on the heels of that. It is accepting Christ's invitation to the meal, to break our fast, to open ourselves to the nourishment of the truth of Christ's love. And the third test is to listen to Christ's question, and to hear what it really means, and to do that as long as it takes to really sink into the depths of our souls: "Do you love me?"
If we can get through all those tests, we will be prepared for that final instruction: "Follow me."
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