Sunday 5 May 2019
The Third Sunday of Easter
Last week we talked a bit about the passage in John that comes right before this one. Perhaps you remember it. It’s the evening of the first Easter, and the disciples are locked away in the house in Jerusalem because they are afraid. Jesus appears and tells them that it is time to let their fear go and get out there and do what they have been called to do: be apostles. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. Get out there and be apostles!” A week passes, and the disciples are still locked up in that same house in Jerusalem, still too afraid to go out. And Jesus appears to them again, saying again that it is time for them to get out of the locked room and do what they were meant to do. They have been sent out, and they need to get going. That’s what it means to be an apostle, to be sent out. So why are they still locked away?
As we come to the lesson today, more time has passed. We don’t know how much time, the narrator simply says “after these things.” The disciples have moved. They’re not in Jerusalem any more. They have left the holy city and have returned home to more familiar surroundings, the Sea of Galilee, or as the Romans called it, the Sea of Tiberius. Remember, that’s where most of the disciples had come from. Many of them were Galilean fishermen. So now, in the wake of Jesus’ death and appearances, they have gone back home.
Are they out continuing Jesus’ mission? Are they preaching to the masses like Jesus did? Are they healing the sick? Are they feeding the poor? No, they aren’t.
So, what do they do? Peter has an idea. He says, “I’m going fishing,” and the others agree to join him. Why does he decide to go fishing? Has he decided to leave his life as a follower of Jesus behind? Has he decided to get back to normalcy, to go back to the ways things were before Jesus stirred everything up? Has he decided to go back to being a professional fisher? Or perhaps he’s just not sure what to do, so in the mean time he decides to do the one thing that comes naturally: catching fish.
For whatever reason, there they are out in the boat. They spend all night fishing. Night was the best time for fishing. But despite all their long efforts, they don’t catch anything.
Maybe this story sounds familiar to you. There is a very similar story in another gospel, in Luke, when the disciples first encounter Jesus. Simon and his buddies had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but Jesus comes along and tells them to go out into the deep water, and they catch so many fish that the nets are about to break. And then he says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people. And they left everything and followed him.
And here they are now at the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry. And they are out in the boat, catching nothing. And Jesus appears and says, “Cast your net on the other side.” And they catch a tremendous number of fish, just as Luke at described at the beginning of their story.
Jesus feeds them. Loaves and fishes, just like he had fed the multitudes along that same lake. They are all too afraid to say anything to him. It’s silent except for the sounds of waves lapping up on the shore.
Until Jesus speaks to Peter. Do you love me? You know I love you, Lord. Feed my lambs. Do you love me? You know that I love you. Tend my sheep. Do you love me? Yes, Lord. You know everything. You know that I love you. Feed my lambs.
Feed my lambs. If you love me, tend my sheep. If you love me, feed my lambs. He had already appeared to them twice. He had already shown them his scars, the wounds in his hands and in his side. He had already commissioned them as apostles, sent them out in ministry to the world. But they still didn’t get it. If you love me, feed my sheep.
Being a follower of Jesus is not about getting things for ourselves, whether they be spiritual assurance or physical rewards or even eternal salvation. Being a Christian is not about making sure that we get fed. Yes, Jesus does offer us miraculous food, miraculous sustenance through life in him. God does offer us forgiveness. God does offer us grace and assurance and even eternal life.
But that is not the end. It does not end when we are fed, just as it did not end when those first disciples were fed on that morning on the Galilean shore. Once they are fed, they are called to feed others. Once they are loved, they are called to love others. Being a Christian is about service.
It’s easy for us to get off track. Sometimes we become paralyzed by fear. Sometimes we become apathetic. Sometimes we simply forget who we are and who we are called to be. We are disciples of Christ. A disciple is one who follows. Christ asks us to follow him. Christ asks us to continue the ministry that he started. Christ calls us to bring healing to those who are sick, to feed those who are hungry, to visit those who are in prison, to fight for justice for those who are oppressed. And Christ calls us to spread the good news of new life in him. Christ calls us to share the gift that we have been given. Because we have received, we must also give.
It’s not surprising that we have a hard time being faithful to God’s call. Those early disciples were with Jesus during his earthly ministry. They were eye-witnesses to his miracles. They heard him preaching first-hand. They were witnesses to the resurrection. And yet, they were still slow to answer the call to go out into the world, to feed his sheep.
Jesus says to us, “Follow me.” And where shall we follow? To care for the poor and the oppressed? To feed the hungry? To confront the corrupt authorities of our time? To share the good news of new life in Christ? To humble ourselves to wash the feet of friend and stranger? To risk our lives for the good of God’s Kingdom? Or will we just say “Yes, Lord,” and then go on about our everyday lives as if nothing has changed, as if we had never experienced the grace of God’s saving love? Jesus says, “Follow me. Feed my sheep.” Where shall we follow?