Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fish when the Chips are Down

Easter 3 Year C John 21:1-19.


The first part of today’s gospel will be familiar, we encountered Luke’s version of the story earlier this year. Luke has the story as part of the call of the disciples; the similarity is that they had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus tells them to throw out their nets, they protest they have fished all night but they’ll give it a go – a nothing ventured, nothing gained response. They get the catch Jesus predicts and they are told to leave their nets and come fishing for men.

When we get to the story today in John’s gospel its after the resurrection and the disciples hadn’t learnt very much in between. They had learnt one thing, they had learnt to trust Jesus. There are no questions asked, they throw out the nets as Jesus tells them to do and they haul up a full catch. The number of fish (153) is thought by some scholars to represent all the known languages at that time, a reference to the disciple’s new mission to ‘all the world’.

So with the catch landed they come up the beech to where Jesus is cooking breakfast for them.

After breakfast Jesus takes Peter aside, they sit round the fire. As Jesus starts to speak I think Peter is probably thinking back to another fire he was sitting around just a few weeks earlier, a fire in the outer courtyard of the High Priest’s house. There, not long after telling Jesus that he would be with him all the way, even to death, he had three times serially denied even knowing Jesus.

Peter’s heart was probably thumping; Jesus had entrusted Peter with the responsibility of building the Church, Peter had pledged his service and allegiance and then ‘lost his bottle’ at the first sign of trouble.

So here in the half-light, in the warmth of the fire, after a cooked breakfast and having landed a large catch of fish following a frustrating night where they had caught nothing, Jesus gently asks Peter if he loves him.

Jesus asks Peter three times 'Do you love me?' and Peter gets pretty irritated by the way he has to be questioned three times. For the first two questions, Jesus asks 'Do you love me?' using ‘agape’ or 'selfless' love.
Peter responds, 'Of course I love you', but he uses 'philein', brotherly, or friendly love, in Australia we might say ‘mateship’ love.

Jesus repeats his question, 'Do you love me?’ Again, Jesus uses agape to which Peter responds 'Of course I love you’, philein-mateship love .

When Jesus asks Peter for the third time, Jesus himself uses 'philein' – mateship love as he asks Peter 'Do you love me?' Jesus is conceding that Peter is not capable of selfless high-love. When Peter responds “Lord you know everything, you know that I love you” there is frustration and acceptance in Peter’s voice. Peter knows that Jesus can see Peter’s own limitations and Peter accepts that he doesn’t need to promise to be anything other than the person he can be.

Yes, Peter is told to feed the lambs, tend and feed the sheep and to ‘follow Me’. But the empowerment will come from an outpouring of the Holy Spirit – Peter will change, he wont catch fish anymore, he too will find his death in martyrdom but God will have done great things through him.

So if God seems hidden from us, if our work seems to be fruitless, if we have un-repented past failures, if we cant quite love God the way he asks us to, today’s gospel speaks to us.

And Jesus says to each of us, ‘feed my lambs, tend my sheep and follow me’.