Friday, 16 April 2010

Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples (Jn 21:1)

This weeks Gospel is well known, taken from John (21:1-19), and is the passage in which Jesus asks Peter three times "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (Joh 21:16 RSV). An important aspect in this passage is the distinction which is made between love as agapê (ἀγάπη), loving as God loves, and philia (φῖλία) which is more an affectionate love or regard.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter (note he addresses Peter as Simon here): "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" (Joh 21:15 RSV) and "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"  (Joh 21:16 RSV) Jesus uses the word agapê, a love in its purest form; a love as God loves. But both times Peter replies not using the word agapê but philia. The third time when Jesus asks "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (Joh 21:17 RSV) he doesn't use agapê but uses philia instead, and as such meets Peter where he is at. "Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?'" (Joh 21:17 RSV), he recognised that he failed to truly love God in the way God loves him. But Peter shows us that we have to work on our love of God to be able to answer God's love for us in the same way, as it is what we are called to, we are called to love as God loves and Jesus command us "that you love one another as I have loved you" (Joh 15:12 RSV).
But it is clear that we are not condemned when we fail, "after this he said to him, 'Follow me.'" (Joh 21:19 RSV) an echo of Peter's first calling, again after he was fishing and caught nothing with his own efforts. Jesus is calling us back all the time, inviting us; he does not remember our failings, only asks us to try and follow him!

And this idea of Peter fishing and caught nothing as with his first calling brings me back to the beginning of the Gospel, as it seems to me that there is a lot there to reflect on. I will make a few suggestions which struck me while doing my morning meditation.

We start the Gospel with "After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he revealed himself in this way." (Joh 21:1 RSV) Jesus is revealing himself to us afresh and new each time and every time, every moment of our lives. Like the apostles I can say at least of myself that I am slow of belief and very easily tempted to turned back to 'the old life', i.e. the life before the encounter with Jesus.

It is exactly like Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples when "Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.'" (Joh 21:3 RSV) and they said "We will go with you." (Joh 21:3 RSV). It can be noted that this passage is inserted after chapter 20 in which Jesus reveals himself to the disciples "did many other signs in the presence of the disciples" (Joh 20:30 RSV). It was not that they did not have a reason not belief in Jesus, he worked many signs and miracles, as he did before the passion... but still they strayed away from him going back to the old life...

I feel that the disciples which were named are interesting as well.  Peter did have a profound encounter with the Lord when he was initially called when they caught the large amount of fish. He saw it "he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'" (Luk 5:8 RSV). Subsequent he left averything and followed the Lord at His call. Nathanael is only mentioned in two places in the Gospels, here in chapter 21 and when he his profoundly called when Jesus touches his life and makes him suddenly exclaim "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (Joh 1:49 RSV).  Thomas who was so courageous and said before going up to Bethany near Jerusalem "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (Joh 11:16 RSV) and of course the sons of Zebedee who were always very close to the Lord, notable being present with Peter during the transfiguration (Mat 17:2).

I think this is important to take in! What do we expect from our relation with Jesus? Do we have any expectations? If we do, we might become disappointed as God usually does not conform to our wishes. It is clear that it was not easy for the disciples in the beginning, and it took time for them to understand the new and different dimension of the relation with Jesus after the Resurrection. And so it is with all of us, it will take time to understand how God is present to us, and how he speaks to us... but He does, and that is the important part, we just have to be patient enough to understand it... like learning a language it takes time...

But to get back to the Gospel story. As with their initial encounter when fishing "they went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing" (Joh 21:3 RSV). Maybe it can be said in a way that their labours were not fruitful without having God in their lives or at their side. Without God, our labours here on earth have no real meaning, what gives it meaning and purpose is God. Therefore everything starts to go better "as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach" (Joh 21:4 RSV), when the true Light entered into their lives and dispelled the darkness...

They did not recognise Jesus, and I think it is interesting that when Jesus calls them he uses paidia (παίδια) which is used for either children as young slaves (but some translation curiously use friends). While the disciples in the boat were maybe not the youngest, I guess it could be a natural thing for somebody to call "Children [or slaves], have you any fish?" (Joh 21:5 RSV), and hence they did not recognise him. Again it is after Jesus his instruction and catching a huge quantity of fish that "they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish" (Joh 21:6 RSV). Jesus again meets them in their own lives, he meets them where they are at, and with a sign that they understand. Starting with John, they recognise the Lord: "It is the Lord!" (Joh 21:7 RSV). Notable, Peter jumps into the water, and this time he was not sinking as last time when "he was afraid, beginning to sink he cried out, 'Lord, save me.'" (Mat 14:24)... his faith was already that bit stronger!

So finally, "when they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread" (Joh 21:9 RSV). The Lord provides, and provides with plenty. There are already fish there, so there was no real need for the humongous catch the Lord provided it already. However, what we do too makes a difference, as Jesus asks them "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." (Joh 21:10 RSV). God provides us with enough, but that does not mean that we just sit back. God works with us, he uses what we do and supplements whatever is lacking. Then Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." (Joh 21:12 RSV) and again had the full encounter of Jesus (the Eucharist, as there was bread (Joh 21:9 RSV)) and "they knew it was the Lord." (Joh 21:12 RSV)

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