May 1, 2022
Scripture Reading: John 21:1-19
This morning, we have another wonderful encounter with Jesus. The Lectionary switches from Luke to John for some reason, but it’s good for us because it’s too special a story for us to miss. The 21st Chapter of John – is probably a later addition to the rest of the gospel. Maybe it was the author’s own addition – or someone else’s.
The story is a delightful weaving of two images: fish and sheep! The fish come first. The setting is in the middle of that post-resurrection confusion, doubt, mystery. Peter, of course, is the one to blurt out: “This is too much, I’m going fishing.” Nobody knows what he’s thinking, but I suspect he’s reverting to what is familiar and what he can control. The others are right behind him. Action over contemplation!
Tell the story:
Peter, in the middle of all of the confusion after the death of Jesus says: “I’m going fishing”
The disciples fish all night and caught absolutely NOTHING! They are certainly in a foul mood – as any fisherperson would be.
At daybreak, Jesus appears on the shore and shouts out to the fishermen who are embarrassed and annoyed: CHILDREN, you’ve caught nothing, have you? Can you imagine their chagrin? Jesus, as a landlubbing non-fisherman has the gall to call out his advice. “Cast your nets on the RIGHT side.” As if they hadn’t tried that a hundred times that night! To their further embarrassment, they caught so many fish, their nets were in danger of breaking. Jesus proceeds to light the grill on shore which inexplicably HAS FISH ON IT??? He is about to cook breakfast for his friends.
AN IMPORTANT OBSERVATION:
I think it is interesting that Jesus starts and ends his public ministry around the fishing docks. Of all the people he could have called to be his disciples, several of the 12 were fishermen. So, here he is about ready to leave the world and his work to those same followers, cooking fish for them, multiplying their catch, and encouraging them to depend on him and his miraculous power.
Do you remember how it all started? Matt 4:19: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Now, at the end of Jesus’s ministry we have a fish story and a clear job description for the work of Peter and the rest of his followers: Feed my lambs and sheep.
These are rural people – people of the water and the earth, the crops and the animals. And Jesus uses the common, earthy stuff that his followers touched and tasted and tended every day to teach the most unearthly, deeply spiritual, and eternal truths. Like the communion bread and wine.
Here is how he left his parting word to the disciples. He used Peter’s weakness and fear and asked him 3 times in a not-too-subtle reference to his three-fold denial: “Do you love me?” Each time he asks the question, Peter becomes more painfully aware that Jesus is not-too-subtly causing him to face squarely his failure as a disciple – his triple denial when Jesus needed him the most.
But, that’s where the test of OUR DISCIPLESHIP always begins. DO YOU LOVE HIM? You’d better figure that out before you begin to step into service and dedication to minister to his people, the sheep of his pasture. Why? 1) Because when you begin to work in ministry of any sort – that is, service to God’s people – you are working not for the people, but for the Shepherd, Jesus. You MUST know deep inside you that you are doing it because you love God! 2) The ONLY sustainable motivation for ministry to the people of God is love for God and for his Son, Jesus. Love for the people is vital, but IT ISN’T ENOUGH!
Now then, Jesus, in these few words to Peter, gives us some hints about the work with the
Community of the Beloved. The first time Jesus asks: “Do you love me, Peter?” and Peter says: “You know that I love you!” Jesus responds with: “Feed my lambs.” He says “Lambs” and it wasn’t an accident! Feed and nourish the lambs, Peter. The little ones. The vulnerable ones. The ones who look to you because they can’t fend for themselves. Do you know why we make a place at the table JUST FOR THE LITTLE ONES? Because Jesus says: Feed them!
Parents and grandparents listen! Feed them like they are not your own but God’s. Feed
them, not just from your table, but feed their hearts and souls as well. Never forget that spiritual nurture in the midst of your efforts to tend to their bodies and their minds!
The next two times Jesus asks: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter is wounded that he must ask three times. “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you!” And now Jesus shifts his response: “Feed my sheep.” and then “Shepherd my sheep.” What does that mean, do you suppose? It would take a year of Sundays to answer that question. Is it some help to point out that Jesus DID NOT SAY “Entertain them!” “Keep them smiling!” or “Keep them comfortable.” Do your job! Do your chores before it gets dark! Feed them and Shepherd them.
And remember: THEY ARE MY SHEEP! You are just the under-shepherds. And YOU ARE WORKING FOR ME not them!