Reflection on the Third Sunday of Easter
As we come up on this third Sunday after Easter, we can see that Jesus has appeared several times after his death – first to Mary Magdalen and the women with her, to the disciples in the upper room without Thomas, to the two men on their way to Emmaus, and again in the upper room with Thomas present. If there are other appearances, we have not been told about them.
Today, in John’s Gospel, the disciples have gone back to Galilee and begun to settle into a more normal life. They must have been exhausted having celebrated Passover, witnessed the arrest, trial, Jesus carrying his cross after having been beaten and finally the crucifixion. Then after struggling with all of that, they were lifted up and overjoyed at the Resurrection. Emotional highs and lows can sap your energy. They probably just needed to do something normal like climbing in a boat and going fishing.
Remember the movie “Guess Who Came to Dinner?” We might title this event “Guess Who Came to Breakfast.” It’s an interesting group: Peter, who denied Jesus three times, Nathanial, who famously declared, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” There was Thomas, the doubter, who couldn’t accept Jesus’ resurrection until he actually touched his body, and then James and John, who wanted the first and second places in the new kingdom. There were also two unnamed disciples who may or may not have had a shady history and finally, the best of the lot, the “beloved disciple.” What a lesson in acceptance! Jesus takes them all in no matter what they have done.
These fellows go out in their boat. They don’t catch anything. I’m sure they weren’t happy about that. Then Jesus says something that triggers a memory of a previous event. “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” Had they not heard that suggestion before and caught a large number of fish just before Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to follow him? The “beloved disciple” is first to realize that it is Jesus standing there on the shore and tells impetuous Peter, who jumps in the water and swims ashore.
Jesus is there, cooking breakfast for them. I love that scene. It is just so human, so homey. They’re just a bunch of ordinary guys sitting on the shore having breakfast together. Jesus serves them bread and fish. Bread – the sharing of bread – when you do this, remember me. In case they hadn’t recognized him just yet, the sharing of bread would be a key. But as we heard in the first reading, these are the same men who will be ordered by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking about Jesus, and they will leave “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” They have come a long way in their understanding and acceptance of Jesus.
There is a second part of this Gospel reading. Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him, “Do you love me?” three times. I’ve always thought this was Peter’s opportunity to be forgiven for denying Jesus three times. But Peter hadn’t asked for forgiveness nor did Jesus say anything about forgiveness. The conversation is about love. Sin is the denial of love. There was an opportunity to love, and he missed it. Peter loved Jesus, but out of fear ignored it. He could have loved more, but was not able to do it at that time. He missed the chance. Jesus is showing Peter the way: Do you love me? That’s all that is necessary. And this time, Peter is on board ready to do what he is being asked to do.
I feel certain that each of us has been in that position at some time or another. We could have shown our love by being patient or generous but just didn’t quite get there. But Jesus will still invite us to breakfast with him. As we often sing, “Loving and forgiving are you, O Lord, slow to anger, rich in mercy, loving and forgiving are you.”
We grew up with a theology that put God above or out there some place. A God who created the earth piece by piece and stood by watching it. With what we now know about the beginning of our world, a new theology has grown up, one which places, in the very center of creation, the love energy, the God-energy, which drives Earth and the universe. That first spark that set things in motion was a spark of love – God’s love – and it has persisted through the generations. This is a God who, through Jesus, was willing to live among us and tutor us in how to love. This is a God who is present to us, and to all of creation, at all times, almost as a part of our DNA. God is the source of all life and keeps it in existence so that everywhere we look, we can see God – in trees, flowers, stars, animals, children, friends AND FOES.
That is the secret – recognizing God in one another. God in me greets God in you. I cannot begin to comprehend a love so great that it not only drives everything in our own universe but in other innumerable universes out there somewhere. We are but a tiny speck in the grand scheme of creation and yet our God lives in us. Let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia!