The Scripture readings for this Sunday continue the tone of exuberant joy just right for this time between Easter and Pentecost.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we continue to hear about the dynamism and vitality of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, still highly charged with the gift of the Spirit in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection. The religious authorities try to suppress the apostles’ preaching about Jesus but to no avail: “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name (i.e., Jesus)?” But the apostles accept no restraints: “We must obey God rather than humans,” Peter replies. The famous Quaker hymn comes to mind: “How can we keep from singing?” We know the feeling — when we experience truly good news that fills us with joy, we have to tell the world…
The mood of the reading from Acts is brash and explosive; the mood of the Gospel selection from John is quite different but also filled with Easter joy. This is the story of the disciples’ encounter with the Risen Christ on the shore of the Sea of Galilee found in chapter 21 of John’s Gospel. Many interpreters have described this as something of an “appendix” to the gospel narrative — the evangelist seems to conclude the Gospel at the end of chapter 20 with the appearance of the Risen Jesus to his disciples that we heard last Sunday. Appendix or not, this account matches John’s style and is one of the most exquisite stories in the entire New Testament.
Several of Jesus’ disciples, including Peter and the “Beloved disciple,” are still confused and sad in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion. They have returned from Jerusalem to their home region of Galilee. Listless, Peter decides to go fishing — his old profession. The other disciples join him, and they set out on a night of fishing, but, matching their mood, they catch nothing. Suddenly a mysterious figure on the shore calls out to them, “Children [the Greek word is an affectionate diminutive that could also be translated as “boys,” or “lads”], have you caught anything?” A difficult question for those who have labored all night with nothing to show for it… “No” they reply. But the man on the shore directs them to put their nets down on the right side of the boat, and they do so…hauling in a catch so great that it threatened to sink their boat!
Abundance in the midst of scarcity. New life where none existed. Love that never fails. Suddenly they knew who this mysterious figure was although they could hardly dare to believe it. True to form, it is the Beloved Disciple who first recognizes Jesus, and it is the impulsive Peter who dives into the water and swims to meet Jesus on the shore!
But the beauty of this encounter is only beginning. Jesus is at work preparing breakfast for his disciples, with bread and some fish already on the grill. “Bring some of the fish you just caught,” Jesus says and then serves the dumbfounded disciples breakfast. They ate, but their eyes and hearts were on their host — none of them dared ask him who he was, the gospel says, “for they realized it was the Lord.”
Jesus was not done yet…he turns to Peter and draws from him a three-fold declaration of his love: “Simon Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Each confession of his love heals in Peter the terrible memory of his threefold denial of his Master during the passion of Jesus. “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” Not only forgiven and healed but commissioned to proclaim the Gospel and care for the community.
The readings this season remind us of who Jesus is and the spirit of his mission. In John’s Gospel, this same Jesus who serves breakfast for his weary disciples had washed their feet on the eve of his own trial and death. Foot washing and feeding — Jesus at work. Expressions of God’s tender love for us and example of what it means to follow.