THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER – C – May 05, 2019

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32, 40b-41
A reading from the Book of Revelation 5:11-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 21:1-19

 

My dear Friends in Christ,

To struggle with faith does not mean there is no faith.  We learn from the struggle that to believe is not easy and demands the support of grace.  The readings for this Third Sunday of Easter are important for the Neophytes, the newly baptized, to hear.  Those of us baptized some years ago can benefit from hearing them too.

Often it is not long into the faith walk before the newly baptized begin to wonder if they believe at all.  They remember the thrill, the elation they felt as they came out of the Font, were confirmed, and were admitted to the Table for the first time.  Their experience can be likened to that of the three disciples at the Transfiguration.  Peter asked Jesus if they couldn’t build three tents there and just live in the splendor of the moment.  The emotional highs that envelop the Neophytes can be so intense that it might never occur to them that they will not live in that high for the rest of their lives.  The three disciples did not want to come down the mountain either.

Some people are addicted to highs, to the intensity of the emotions of new relationships, of falling in love.  Some respond to vocations the same way.  The thrill of the call and the assurance of capacity that comes with it, convince the responder that’s/he will feel that way every day.  Ah, but then reality sets in.  The emotions calm as the demands of the ordinary, the day-to-day routine of living return.  Relations break up and vocations cool because people no longer feel what they thought they would feel always when they first responded to the inner call.  And so they miss the height and depth and breadth of love tried and proved.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that the apostles are already suffering because they are preaching Christ crucified and risen.  The Sanhedrin and the high priest are furious because they have ordered the apostles not to teach in that name.  The apostles’ teaching implies that the Sanhedrin and the priests are responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion and death.  But Peter, speaking for the rest, says that they must obey God and continue to preach because God exalted (Jesus) at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.  It is God’s will that this be announced and the Holy Spirit, given by God, supports their vocation and mission.  Unfortunately, the reading skips the few verses that describe the flogging of the apostles as punishment before they are released and ordered once again to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.  The apostles go out rejoicing because they have been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.  For them, this was proof of discipleship.  They remembered that Jesus had said they could not be his disciples unless they took up the cross every day and followed him.  Suffering is part of being on The Way with Jesus.

It is said that a reason many people refuse to accept Jesus as Messiah is because all that was supposed to mark the Messianic Age did not happen with Jesus.  Suffering continued.  Persecution did also.  How can that be if Jesus is truly the messiah?  How can innocent people still have bad things happen to them if we live in the Messianic age?  Why are there still wars?  That is why John wrote the Book of Revelation.  Revelation is apocalyptic literature.  The Book deals with the final things.  John is caught up in the mystery of mystical experience and has visions full of signs and wonders.  He records his experience for the benefit of the church that is already being persecuted.  The visions of Christ reigning at God’s right hand, and all creation singing his praises, affirm the truth that was preached in the name and is meant to encourage the suffering church so that they do not lose faith or their hope in Christ.  Those who endure in persecution can hope with confidence that they will share in that heavenly glory because they will rise just as Christ did.  That is God’s will realized in Christ.

In the gospel, the apostles have not yet found direction for their lives.  Peter announces that he is going fishing.  We cannot hear that without remembering that Peter had fished the night through, catching nothing, when Jesus called him.  In the morning, Peter followed Jesus’ directions and his nets were suddenly engorged with fish.  Peter and his companions saw this as a sign that God was working through Jesus.  Upon reaching shore, Peter said to Jesus: Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.  Jesus persevered in the call and told Peter that from now on you will be catching people.  Peter and the others left everything and began to follow Jesus.

Now, in these first post-Easter days, it is as though Peter is floundering.  He has not yet found his purpose.  He decides to go fishing again.  He will find comfort in returning to the familiar.  He and his companions, as they did that other time, again spend the night fishing and again, catch nothing.  A Stranger on the shore calls out to them: Children, have you caught anything to eat?  When they say that they have not, the Stranger tells them to cast their nets to the other side.  They do as they are told and once again they net a huge number of fish.

You might say that signs abound, but Peter, as yet, is not able to interpret them.  The Disciple Jesus loved, who had accompanied Peter to the tomb Easter morning, as he did then, again sees the signs and believes.  He tells Peter: It is the Lord.  Notice that still Peter does not see for himself.  The gospel says that when he heard the Disciple tell him it was the Lord, he is thrown into confusion.  Embarrassed that he is scantily clad, he throws on clothes and then leaps into the sea.  The others row the fish-laden boat ashore only to find that already Jesus is broiling fish for their breakfast.  He invites them to bring some of their fresh catch to add to it.

There are some important symbols that we should not miss.  Peter’s boat represents the church.  The nets cast out stand for the preaching mission of the church: From now on you will be fisher’s of people.  The nets, filled as they are, do not break.  There is room for, a place for everyone in the church.  Peter and the others follow Jesus’ instruction and make their catch.  As long as the church imitates Jesus and is led by the Spirit, the results will follow.  It is when that is not the case that they do not hear and respond.

When Peter comes onto the beach, he must be embarrassed.  He had denied Jesus three times, swearing the third time that he did not know the man.  Now, Jesus asks him three times if Peter loves him.  Each time Peter says that he does love Jesus.  Pay close attention to how the scene concludes.  It will be important for the church in persecution to hear what Jesus says, and for those facing martyrdom to take the words to heart.  So, too, should those facing the indignity of aging or physical disability.  Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. 

Peter will preach Jesus.  He will also imitate Jesus in pouring himself out in service.  He will be like Christ in his dying.  Martyrdom is not defeat but victory.  Christ triumphs in Peter and in those others who give up their lives for the Gospel.  (Faith enables us to recognize Christ in the enfeebled and in the disabled and to see clearly their dignity and worth.)  Jesus’ words to Peter may well be one of the reasons that, from the earliest days of the church, the most honored ones were the martyrs.  In the catacombs, the tombs of the martyrs were the first altars on which the Eucharist was celebrated.  To the present, relics of martyrs are in the altar stones of every parish church.  The lesson is for us, helping us to recognize that because of Christ’s dying and rising, death has been conquered.  Those who lose their lives in this world for the Gospel are the victors and will live with Christ forever.

Two things should register as challenges for the church, three, if we think about it.  First, we are a servant church whose first call is to take up the cross every day and walk in Christ’s footsteps as we shepherd the lambs and sheep.  Second, nowhere should the desire to forgive and reconcile be more evident than in the church.  Third, all are welcome in this church.

The net that is cast out is the Gospel.  If Christ directs the casting, multitudes will be drawn in.  Just as he did no the beach that morning, after an all night’s fruitless fishing, the meal that Christ prepares for our strengthening is the Eucharist, so that, having eaten and drunk, we can go out and labor again, always casting the net as Jesus directs.  Of course Christ expects us to do our part.  And Christ will bring what we do to perfection.

Let Jesus’ final words in this gospel echo in your heart.  Hear them at the beginning of each day.  Hear them as you fall asleep at the end of your day’s labor.  It is all the neophytes will have to do.  It is all any of us have to do.

Follow me.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

 

Didymus

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