“Worthy (the Greek axios) was a well-known political term in the Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire. Just as today the band plays “Hail to the Chief” when the President of the United States enters a large gathering, so in the first centuries the crowds were trained to shout, “Worthy! Worthy! Worthy is the emperor!” when the Roman emperor appeared in public. Revelation constantly engages in a struggle with the powers of evil, symbolized and centered in the Roman Empire. It is the Lamb, Jesus, who is worthy, not the emperor, no matter how much power he claims.” And rather than a lion or eagle or strong creature representing the Empire… there is a wounded lamb. ((by Walter F. Taylor, Jr.)) Revelation 5:11-14
John 21 is tacked on to the end of the book of John – added to it at some later date by either John himself, or someone who wrote to answer some questions or add more details.
So, after concluding the book with Thomas believing Jesus… the Gospel of John gives this encore: John 21:1-19
The disciples don’t want to say goodbye and feel that emptiness. They don’t want to think the time with Jesus is over. They don’t want to think they failed to see Rome’s grasp on Israel released. They don’t want to think what life means as there is a long…. weeks now… pause since Jesus died, was seen, and… disappeared again. They don’t want to think of what this new world means. The important center of their lives – what gave them meaning… is gone. Who are we when our identities are stripped like that?
So they don’t say goodbye. They sit in that paused time between morning, (mourning) and dawn of the new reality that now is missing their precious lamb. Some return to old habits to cope. Simon Peter was a fisherman, and so… he goes back to fishing.
He’s joined by 6 others, including more of the original fishers, and they get in their boat in the same old sea – the sea of Tiberius also known as the sea of Galilee. And they fish all night long.
And as the dawn comes, their nets are still empty. They are just as poor of fishermen as they were before Jesus as after Jesus. They must laugh, bitterly. Is this really the old life of failures they want to return to?
“Do you remember how Jesus stood on the shore and called to us?” I imagine one son of Zebedee says. The other adds, “And how he told us to cast our nets out again and we caught so many fish the net began to rip?”
Peter mentions sadly, “And he said he would make us fishers of men.”
But they have fewer men now than they began with. Judas betrayed them. And then committed suicide. Four are not here. The women are not here. And Jesus is not here.
“Men? We cannot even catch a fish.”
Old habits. Old ways. And the same old failures. It’s almost comforting. Robotic. The disciples’ bodies are on autopilot just doing what they need to survive.
Survival is something important to God… but it isn’t the life we’re called to. We’re called to thrive. To have life, and have it abundantly.
To the lost, Jesus calls. To the mourning, Jesus comes. To those of us who don’t want to say goodbye… Jesus reminds us that in him, we do not say ‘goodbye forever.’ We say… goodbye for now; I’ll see you around the heavenly throne.
The disciples see with the dawn light a man standing on the shore. He calls to them, “Children, you have no fish, do you?”
“Cast it again!”
Much like that time long ago, the fishermen listen to the advice of the stranger. And like long ago, they have more fish than the net can hold. Unlike long ago, the net does not break. Unlike long ago, they know it is Jesus the Lord for they recognize his miraculous sign of abundance and life.
In sheer joy, Simon Peter throws on clothes and leaps into the water to swim to Jesus.
When he arrives, Jesus already has fish and bread, cooked and ready, and he invites these disciples to add their own fish to the simple meal, full of God’s splendor.
152 fish they have caught. I wonder – is that number important? Is that how many disciples and followers of Jesus remained at the time of this writing? I don’t know! But it means a lot. A diverse amount of fish brought in to Christ.
Then Jesus feeds them. Jesus gives bread and fish to the disciples. Jesus sits with them. Jesus meets them where they are, and joins them in their lives.
A while ago, Peter sat near a charcoal fire at dusk. Now he sits by a charcoal fire at dawn. And the fateful moment of Peter’s faith is tested… again.
Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” “Do you love me?” “DO YOU LOVE ME?!” Three times Peter proclaims yes. Three times – the same number of times he denied Jesus when Jesus faced his death. Three times – and Jesus reminds Simon, the disciples, and us once more…
Since you love me…
Feed my sheep.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Do not judge lest you be judged.
Care for the lonely.
Care for the weak.
FEED those SHEEP! Tend the flocks! Feed one another!
Do as I have have done.
And let there be peace.
This is not a commissioning to be a fisher of men anymore. This is a recomissioning to feed the flock. Many fish are being brought in – by many disciples – but someone needs to care for them. Jesus is physically going away to fight the final battles over sin and evil and death… but someone needs to still care for his precious lambs while he physically is gone and not yet returned.
Feed my sheep. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.
Theologian Andrew Sung Park says God has a wounded heart. A broken heart. Catholics speak about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is pierced with a spear head. A Buddhist story goes a woman took her dead son to Buddha and asked him for medicine to cure the boy. The Buddha said he had medicine for her, but not the kind she asked for. She still wanted it. So the Buddha asked her to get mustard seed from a house that had known no death. House after house she went to — and house after house had mustard seed… but all had known death. In the end, she could find no house immune to death. And she returned to the Buddha with an empty hand, but opened heart to the common lot, common, awful, shared experience we have of saying goodbye.
No one has not known the night full of failures. No household is immune to pain and lost. No soul hasn’t known a Dark Night of the Soul where one doesn’t know what the dawn will bring and almost fears to see it. Will it be Jesus on the shore – or will the shore be empty? Will there be fish in the net – or will emptiness linger?
We often live in that meantime. The waiting time. Unwilling or unable to face the dawn. Living seeking to escape reality.
The disciples regress. Go back. They stop living as fishers of men when they are so heart broken. They just have heaven on their minds and forget the world around them.
But Jesus brings them back to reality. If we love the lamb, then we care for the sheep. If we look forward to the full reign of the lamb on Earth as he reigns in Heaven, then we should care for his sheep who are ON earth just as he cares for those in Heaven.
In Revelations, John of Patmos sees the myriads of myriads, thousands of thousands, of angels and the dead singing praises… but also the living creatures. The living and the dead, the angels and the saints, the sinners and the every creature on earth and under the sea and in the sea – all of creation – praises God.
We are commissioned to be fishers of men – to welcome people into the life of following Jesus. But we are also re-commissioned to be the ones who tend the flock.
Mahatma Gandhi said “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
And this is true. Physical needs, spiritual needs, housing needs, income needs. Need for friends and lovers. Needs for community. It’s not enough to preach the word of God, we must LIVE the word of God.
And how is that done?
By following Jesus.
And tending to the sheep of all creation.