10 Apr 2016
“After this Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.” (John 21:1)
In the name …
Ohh the patience of Jesus. The whole time the human Jesus is walking around preaching and performing miracles everyone wants to know if He’s really the Son of God. Then He comes back from the dead as the glorified Saviour and now everyone wants to know if He’s human. That’s why we have the story of Jesus eating a hearty breakfast of grilled fish. Ghosts don’t eat fish; real people do. And just in case those were some kind of fish and bread apparitions on the charcoal fire, Jesus tells the disciples to bring some over from the catch they had just dragged to shore. There can be no doubt that these are real fish being eaten by a real Jesus. And as the Bible tells us this morning: “This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to His disciples after being raised from the dead.” (John 21:14)
I think by this time it’s fair to ask what’s the problem with them disciples? Mary Magdalene told them about the empty tomb. Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw it for themselves. Then Mary actually sees the risen Jesus, which is what we talked about last Sunday. She goes and tells the disciples that Jesus is alive. That Easter Sunday night Jesus appears to all of them except Thomas who was out somewhere else. The following Sunday everyone is together and Jesus appears to them again. Jesus tells Doubting Thomas to put his fingers in the nail prints and his hand in his side. So it seems reasonable to wonder by this third time why the disciples have so many reservations. We’re here today as Easter believers and I don’t think any of us have even had one vision of the risen Lord. What more do these guys want?
And that should get us to thinking. I once saw on some webpage a picture of a church sign outside of some fundamentalist church that read: A free thinker is Satan’s slave. Inside that kind of church you’re not supposed to ask questions. You just read the Bible and everything supposedly is answered for you. If you dare to think a little bit for yourself when it comes to God, then you become God’s enemy. You become Satan’s slave. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that thinking is the greatest gift that God has given to us, and that it helps define us as made in God’s image. Thinking is part of worship. This is just one of the reasons why I’m not all impressed with the State of Tennessee’s recent decision to name the Bible the official book of that state. This political side-show now casts together the Bible as the official book of Tennessee with milk as the official beverage, raccoons as the official animal, tomatoes as the official fruit and even the M82 sniper rifle as the official rifle of Tennessee. Thinking about what the Bible says seems to be far greater honour.
And if we honour the biblical word with God-given intelligence, I think our suspicions that something is awry are justified when we hear that the disciples are again surprised by Jesus’ reappearance after His death. They should be much more willing to believe by this the third time. I can understand the Doubting Thomas story. He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the other ten disciples, and he refuses to believe without being able to see for himself. This gives Jesus a chance to tell him, and to actually tell all of us sitting here this morning: “‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (John 20:29) With that statement Easter becomes timeless. It reaches out from the empty grave and through the first eye-witnesses to each of us sitting in church this morning half a world away and some 2,000 years later. Then John very appropriately closes his Gospel.
But when you turn the page, there’s another chapter hiding there, and one of the stories in that unexpected chapter is the one we read this morning about Jesus cooking fish on the seashore. But if we’re willing to combine Bible and thinking, at this point maybe we can see that someone has come along and added a second ending to the original Gospel. Maybe we have here resurrection accounts that were told among the members of the earliest church, but had no home in any of the written Gospels. John is the latest of the four Gospels in our Bible and maybe a good-intentioned and pious believer from one of John’s churches tacked this story on to the end of John’s Gospel to make sure that it survived and was retold for all future generations of believers. Maybe this good-intentioned Christian was thinking.
This makes a lot more sense. Then this doesn’t become a third appearance met with shock; instead maybe this is a first appearance. One of the earliest Easter traditions is at the empty tomb when the angel announces to the women: “‘[Jesus] is going before you to Galilee ...’” (Mark 16:7) Today’s account takes place on the shores of Lake Tiberias, which is simply another name for the Sea of Galilee. I don’t have the time to go into it now, but there are only seven of the remaining eleven disciples accounted for in this story. The most primitive Easter account may have had the disciples dispersing after the arrest of Jesus. They gave up hope and returned to their old lives, some as fishermen in their old homes in Galilee, that is, until the resurrected Jesus confronts them with His new life and with theirs. What we have here may be one of the oldest, most primitive Easter stories in the church. Then the astonishment of the disciples is understandable, as is also the need for Jesus to prove that it’s really Him bodily resurrected from the grave. Thinking saves this biblical story from confusion and the disciples from embarrassment, and thinking makes this a meaningful account of an unexpected encounter with Christ even for people who had given up on Him and who weren’t looking for Easter. Jesus came anyway. Thinking is a gift from God and it should accompany faith every step of the way, especially with something as wondrous as Easter. May this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo