Third Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
This week our Gospel lesson continues in the Gospel of John while we hear complimentary readings that also deal with an underlying theme of great importance. What I see is a thread that highlights ‘worthiness’ in different ways, especially as it pertains to the work of the Kingdom of God. Worthiness is a tricky thing, and it’s a concept that we all at one time in our lives have pondered. For God’s call and our work as Christians in the world, we are given perfect examples of how worthy one must be in order to be a disciple. By perfect of course, I mean they exemplify exactly how broken and opposite of worthy one can seem while still being fully loved and entirely able to follow God’s call. In some cases those people are exactly the right person for the job.
Let’s start with our favorite disciple that always has the wrong answer. Peter and some others have gone back to the Sea of Galilee, presumably where Jesus’ ministry began and where they first met him. It’s not clear from this telling if it’s been days, weeks, or even months after Jesus has first appeared to the disciples, but we know this definitely comes after. I have to wonder what’s going on for these disciples. Jesus has resurrected, and shown himself to them, has intimated that they are to be doing the ministry work he has taught to them…and they’re going fishing. Now, maybe they need the money to keep up their ministry, maybe their getting food for the followers, maybe they are just getting a little relief from stress and uncertainty. It certainly isn’t a surprise that with all the turmoil they return to something incredibly familiar, probably even comforting.
Off they go, but with no luck at catching anything. Jesus is standing on the shore and calls out to them, tells them where to cast their nets which sounds almost exactly like Luke chapter 5, a time much earlier in Jesus’ ministry when Jesus calls these very same disciples. Once their nets are so full that they can barely haul them up, John recognizes Jesus and tells Peter. Peter…who is fishing in a style that I don’t believe is approved of at bass master tournaments…can’t wait to get to Jesus, so he dives into the water. John and Peter could be seen to exemplify two very different ways of following Jesus. John is patient, contemplative, and able to recognize Jesus from farther away. Peter is impulsive, excitable, and once he finally recognizes Jesus dives into the water because the boat won’t get him there fast enough.
Then follows Peter’s affirmations to Jesus’ questions. Classical interpretation sees Jesus’ asking Peter the question of love three times to mirror the three denials that Peter made of Jesus. Other scholars focus on very specific use of words in the Greek text for love and knowing, but I think the biggest revelation to come out of this moment is Jesus’ command to Peter to tend the flock. This is the call of Peter’s primacy, to lead in Jesus’ absence. God is calling Peter to lead these followers in The Way once Jesus has left. Peter, a man so afraid he denies he even knows Jesus after learning from him, breaking bread with him, following him. If God can call such a person as this, for such an important task, imagine what God can call us to.
Which brings us to Saul, who will become Paul, credited with writing 9 of the 27 books comprising the New Testament, shaping the early church; someone who becomes an apostle of Christ without even meeting Jesus before his Ascension. But first he is Saul. The guy who holds people’s coats while they stone Stephen to death for being a follower of Jesus Christ. Saul. The guy who goes out of his way to get special permissions to hunt down and kill followers of Jesus Christ. That’s the same guy that God calls to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Saul is on the road to Damascus, as the reading from Acts states, is brought down low by a blinding light. He was made blind and had to rely on God’s direction and the faithful hospitality and care of the followers of Jesus to make him whole again. This is Paul’s call to follow, proclaim, and eventually to lead a new generation of Christians. Again God calls the most unlikely of people. Almost laughably unlikely. I wonder if the Christians he persecuted ever joked that maybe God should just take care of Saul. Well, God did really, but in a way that reflected the overly abundant love that is a part of the Kingdom of God. Now, as a complete aside, if you want a fun little distraction for later, try and figure out where in Western art history we first see images of Saul falling off a horse. It’s the way most of us imagine this encounter, but there isn’t a single mention of it in the scripture.
What I am taking from these passages is this: God calls people to do amazing, important things, even if they have some rough edges. Peter and Paul had done some things that show us no matter how low you sink, God can work through you. Maybe God won’t show up and share some bbq’d fish with you, or blind you until you seek out the home of the same people you are hunting to kill for their help and care. But certainly God shows up in our lives in ways that are sometimes subtle and sometimes more obvious. What is God calling you to? What work, what ministry, what path following Christ are you being asked to take? To discern this is an incredibly important part of our ongoing work in this faith that we proclaim.
Worthiness is something that we can doubt in ourselves. I think that’s a fairly common human experience. We can think that maybe we aren’t holy enough or Jesus-y enough or maybe we don’t think we know theology well enough to share the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to a world that needs it so badly. But it turns out that God calls a whole lot of people that you otherwise might not think of to serve and lead and proclaim. You don’t need an official title and rather restrictive fastened collar to do those things either. You are no less worthy to follow in The Way of Jesus Christ than Paul or Peter were. Remember that as you discern your gifts, your call, and as you boldly and loudly proclaim, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”