Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Easter (C)
April 14, 2013
Text: John 21:1-19

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            Our Gospel this morning, which takes place after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, parallels something very similar that happened at the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry (Luke 5:1-11).  Fishermen, Peter, James, and John, and probably Andrew, had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  They are present at the Lake of Gennesaret, washing their empty nets, as Jesus teaches the crowd from another boat.  And then He says to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v. 4; ESV).  Peter objects.  He was, after all, an experienced fisherman.  He knew what he was doing.  Jesus was not a fisherman.  But why not?  Whatever you say, Jesus.  We’ll give it a try.  So they do as Jesus says, and you know what happens?  They catch such a large number of fish that the nets begin to break.  It takes two boats to contain the fish, and the boats start sinking.  Peter immediately realizes that something miraculous is happening.  Jesus is no ordinary man.  He falls at Jesus’ feet.  Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (v. 8).  And Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (v. 10).
            Fast forward three years.  So much has happened since that call of the first disciples.  So much teaching.  So many miracles.  Demons cast out, diseases healed, the dead raised.  Then there were the events of Holy Week: The cleansing of the Temple; the Passover in the upper room; Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the command to love one another; the bread and wine of which Jesus said, “This is my body, this is my blood”; the sweating of blood in the garden; the betrayal, arrest, and trial of Jesus; His crucifixion, death, and burial… and now, the resurrection!  So much to take in, to process.  Peter especially doesn’t know what to do with it all.  Remember, He had denied his Lord.  Three times.  He had wept bitterly.  Could he be forgiven?  And now, what is the relationship of any of the disciples to Jesus?  He appears and disappears without warning.  They never know when they’re going to see Him  What does it all mean?
            Peter doesn’t know.  But he does know how to fish.  He and his brother Andrew and their partners James and John, probably some of the other disciples as well… They were fishermen.  They had fished for a living before they met Jesus.  They had probably fished off and on while they were with Jesus.  So Peter makes the decision.  Time for some normalcy, some familiarity.  I am going fishing,” he declares matter-of-factly (John 21:3).  And the disciples who are with him, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and a couple others decide they are going with him.  They’re not fishing for leisure, understand.  They’re going back to work, to their daily vocation.  But the end is just like the beginning.  They fish all night and catch nothing.  I mean, it’s ridiculous.  There they are again with empty nets. 
            And then, a voice from the shore.  Children, do you have any fish?” (v. 5).  What is this guy, a smart alec?  No, we don’t have any fish.  Thanks for rubbing it in.  Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (v. 6).  Yeah, right.  But whatever.  Here goes nothing.  And what happens?  They catch such a great quantity they’re unable to haul it in (although, this time, the nets don’t break).  Now, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (v. 7), he’s always thinking.  He connects the dots.  We’ve seen this somewhere before!  Wait a second!  This is Jesus!  It is the Lord!” he says to Peter.  Upon which news Peter throws on his outer garment and throws himself into the sea.  (A little biblical humor: The other disciples simply row the boat to shore, “for they were not far from the land,” John writes [v. 8]).  And when they disembark, there is the risen Christ.  He’s cooking fish and bread (where did He get these fish, by the way?  He provides them.  He’s God).  He tells the disciples to bring some of the fish they’ve just caught, and there’s plenty.  153 large fish.  And Jesus feeds His disciples.  Come and have breakfast” (v. 12).  He “took the bread and gave it to them,” (v. 13), just as He had done when He instituted His Supper, and just as He had done for the disciples at Emmaus, an action by which they recognized the risen Lord.  And He did the same with the fish.  Jesus feeds His people.  He eats with them.  He’s risen from the dead.  Bodily.  He cooks.  He eats.  And at His Word, His disciples enjoy a great catch of fish. 
            So what’s going on here, theologically?  Follow me,” Jesus says to His disciples, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).  Follow me,” Jesus says to Peter at the conclusion of our Gospel lesson (John 21:19).  Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep” (vv. 15-16).  These texts have nothing to do with fishing on the lake or shepherding in the field.  They have everything to do with the Office of the Holy Ministry and the Holy Christian Church.  Jesus uses the literal fishing of the disciples to illustrate a tremendously important theological point.  When the disciples fish on their own initiative, by their own best efforts, using their own techniques and proven methods, they catch nothing.  But at the Word of Jesus, they enjoy a miraculous catch of fish.  Our Gospel even records the number, a rather peculiar fact, 153 of them.  Beloved, when preachers go out on their own initiative and put forth their own best efforts, using their own techniques and proven methods… when the Church tries to keep up with the latest fads, makes itself “relevant” by the standards of the day, often forsaking God’s Word, denying God’s Word, hiding the crosses, avoiding scandal by being politically correct… well, what happens?  Nothing.  Fish all night that way and you won’t catch any men.  Oh, it may appear that you catch many.  You may fill the former Compaq Center in Texas.  But will you have gained one soul for the Lord? 
            On the other hand, at the Word of Jesus… By His Word which alone can convert those who are alienated from God into God’s own children, with His Word as the net, let down on the “right side,” the proper side, the side commanded by the Lord… well, just watch what the Lord will do.  He’ll bring in a great catch of fish, and He’ll know every single one of them, the exact number (remember the 153 fish?).  He’ll know them right down to the very hairs of their head, which are all numbered.  Now, it may not look like much from our perspective.  It may not look very successful.  Quite the opposite.  The world will be offended by the preaching of Jesus’ Word.  The Church will always appear to be shrinking and dying.  She will often be persecuted.  The preachers will be imprisoned and killed.  Peter will stretch out his hands and another will dress him and carry him where he does not want to go (v. 18), probably a reference to his crucifixion, which according to tradition was upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.  No, it doesn’t look successful.  But we live by faith, not by sight.  We do not use the world’s standards to gage success.  By faith, we understand that the Holy Spirit is present in the Word of God to call sinners to Himself, to enlighten, sanctify, and keep them in the true faith of Jesus Christ, just as He does for us and for His whole Christian Church on earth.  By faith we understand that the Church is ever growing, that she never loses a member to death because those in heaven are still members of the Holy Church, that God grows His Church as He wills through the preaching of His Word.  And He provides for His people.  He feeds His people.  Literally.  He gives us our daily bread.  And He gives us what we need to live spiritually: Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins and raised for our justification, given to us in His Word and the Holy Supper of His body and blood. 
            So don’t lose heart, dear people of God!  Go to your daily vocation.  Go and be faithful. Live by God’s Word.  Trust Him to put food on your table.  Trust Him to feed you with His Word and Sacrament.  He is faithful.  He will do it.  And entrust the Church to Him, too.  He knows what He’s doing.  We don’t know what He’s doing.  He will do what He will do.  We aren’t called to success by worldly standards.  We are called to proclaim His Word faithfully.  Leave the rest to Him.  It’s His problem how many men we catch.  We are to be concerned with the preaching.  The Office of the Holy Ministry is given for this purpose: To feed the lambs.  To tend the sheep.  To preach Christ crucified for sinners.  To proclaim with all the people of God: He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         


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