Thursday, April 22, 2010

From Shame to Service

This week's scriptures are Revelation 7:9-17 and John 21:1-19.

The passage from John for this week is a peculiar one. It appears to have been tacked on to the end of John's gospel and there are some biblical scholars who believe that it was written by a different writer that the rest of the gospel.

All of this makes for some interesting discussion. However, what I'd like to focus on in this blog is the fact that this passage contains within it a sort of "mini-gospel" which speaks to our journey in relationship to Christ. Let's take a look.

The passage begins as Peter, weary and beaten down by all that has happened: his own betrayal of Jesus, Jesus' torture and death by crucifixion, the reports of resurrection.....he's overwhelmed. And so he goes back to what he knows, to 'business as usual,' and goes fishing. At least in the physical labor of the commercial fisherman of his day, Peter could lose himself for a few hours.

It must have been hot out on the water that night. Peter had stripped down against the heat and the frustration of not having caught anything. As dawn rose someone called to them from the shore to ask if they'd caught anything and to suggest that they throw their nets from the other side of the boat. When they begin catching a huge amount of fish by following this advice John, remembering an earlier experience with Jesus (see Luke 5:4-7), yells, "it's the Lord!"

Peter graps his clothes and dives into the water. His friend, his Lord is on the shore. But when he gets there, he is strangely shy. The memory of his betrayal returns to him. Would Jesus even want to see him, much less speak to him. You can see him hanging back on the fringe as Jesus feeds them breakfast with fish that he apparently already had. Then Jesus asks Peter the famed three times, "do you love me?" Each time Peter answers, "yes Lord" he is told, "feed my sheep."

Now is a good time to take a brief detour and talk about the fish that the disciples caught that morning. They caught, we're told, 153 fish. Now this seems strange to note until we realize that this is the supposed number of types or species of fish in Sea of Tiberius. They'd been told before that they would become "fishers of men." This catch becomes symbolic of that. Not just some persons, but all persons. The 'sheep' Peter was being directed to feed weren't just Jewish males. They were 'male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile.' Every kind of 'fish.'

Then Jesus says one more thing to Peter. He tells him what the cost of this is going to be. Peter is going to die. Peter is going to be tortured to death like Jesus was. The phrase in verse 18 is described by some commentators as a technical term regarding crucifixion. And, tradition has it, that Peter was, indeed, crucified for his faith.

How much this is like our own stories. Few of us have managed to live our lives-even after our conversion-with out betrayals and sin and the shame that goes with them. How often have we wondered if Jesus really wanted to have anything to do with us. The answer lies in the meal on the shore. Even before we come back, Jesus is preparing to feed us.

Jesus also has a task for us. The passage from Revelation speaks to a time when "the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd." A time when Christ will wipe away every tear from "the great multitude from every nation."
I believe that time will come. But until it does, Christ's words to us as they were to Peter are "feed my sheep." It is our task. Not just to care for those far away-though this is important. But to care for those close to home. For the uninsured in our neighborhood. The battered wife down the street. The unemployed up the block. The prisoner in our local jail; and the patient in our local hospital.

Finally, we need to understand that doing this is going to be costly. What will it cost us to take stands about the environment, about medical care, about jobs, about state budgets, about the sex offender registry, about victim's rights, about homelessness, about any place in our society where there are wounded hurting people.....what will it cost us to follow Jesus' lead?

Peter came to Jesus from a place of shame in his life. Jesus restored him....and then put him to work....warning him of the cost. Can we expect any less?

Hope to see you Sunday.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

When I read this passage, the reality, the grittiness of the situation and scene just grabs me. Sad, frightful, tired, and/or hopeful men, trying to fish at night (which was common practice, according to Barclay's commentary on John) but with no success. The nets getting heavier and heavier, though they still empty. Where was their on-the-shore spotter (also common practice)? The impression I get is that they were putting huge efforts in, but more or less flailing about. Perhaps one of them might have been recognized if they were ashore - who knows? Maybe this was part of the lesson, learning patience through breaking down of pride, so that when Jesus calls from the shore, they will be ready to listen. Scary thought there, eh? You can go lots of places with that.

Peter was probably more than just excited and then sheepish - he was the only mentioned that jumped into action dragging the long-awaited catch the rest of the way ashore. This could be the efforts of someone trying to show love, in a small way, in the face of a tremendous mistake. Or maybe Peter was covering his shame with action. You'd better believe it was awkward, though. Again, so is the hurt the Peter feels in being asked repeatedly about his love for Jesus. Surely Jesus knew Peter loved him, but it seems he had to prove his point, which included some emotional pain (probably on both ends). Do we need to hurt or fail to learn? To get over our pride and shame?

Lastly, a question of linguistics (yay!): My mom told me that Jesus used slightly different turns of phrase with his repetition of "Feed my lambs." How so, and what can this tell us?