The Heart of the Matter
Post resurrection encounters with Christ
Week 4: Restored Hearts.
Read: John 21:1-14
Having endured an unforgettable, awful, and confusing week the disciples do what many people might do when faced with such challenges…they go fishing! They go back to their old home (Galilee) and pick up their old ways (fishing). It’s tempting to judge them harshly, and many have done just this, suggesting their actions are a display of timidity, of reverting to their old life and abandoning their new life.
But this seems harsh. For starters an angel appears to the disciples and tells them to go to Galilee because “there you will see him” (Mt28:7) Also, having endured such a roller-coaster week which included the triumph of palm Sunday, the agony of good Friday, and the confused jubilation of easter day, the disciples can be forgiven for doing what they knew best, dusting off the nets and striking out from the shore. It was perfect therapy!
Discuss: Although it seems in this case that it’s unfair to judge the disciples for abandoning their new life and reverting to their old, we are perhaps aware of the ease with which we do this? When times are hard in the journey of faith it is often easier to revert back to old habits, old patterns of living, and old assumptions to help us through. Does anyone in the group find themselves in this situation? If so, and they are willing to share their struggles – pray for each other.
Perhaps one of the first things to strike us as we read this report is the sheer normality of the disciples course of action. They just go out to fish. Simple as that. They’ve encountered the risen Christ, they have been transformed from being timid and scared as Christ breathed his peace on them, and so now…they go fishing.
Discuss: This gives us an interesting point of reflection: namely the continuing importance of the day to day things in the resurrection life. It is so easy in the Christian life, to begin to see the mundane and normal things of life as less important than the ‘spiritual’ things. To begin to despise the day to day and ordinary as we search for the extra-ordinary. The disciples actions remind us that the day to day remains important in the resurrection life, both as part of Gods created order, and because it is the forum in which he is active. To put it crudely ‘Christ is Risen, but we still need to eat’.
As you go about your daily life are you able to keep a balance between one eye on the ‘heavenly’ and one eye on the ‘earthy’ (to use an unhelpful dualism)? Are you able to see and interpret the things of life though the lens of Gods redemptive purposes, and are you able to see Gods redemptive purposes as work in the things of life?
So back to the story…
As well as being a simple account of Jesus meeting his disciples, and in particular restoring Simon Peter (more on that later) it’s also a richly symbolic story which speaks of the call that Jesus gives his disciples to proclaim the good news. It is to this that we now turn.
You may remember back in Luke 5:10 Jesus takes another fishing trip with Simon-Peter. The parallels are striking. In this story too the fishermen have caught nothing. And in this story too Jesus instructs them as to where they should fish and a huge catch follows. It is at this point that Jesus says to Simon-Peter and James and John; “do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
The episode in John 21 clearly mirrors the episode reported in Luke 5, and this similarity would certainly not have been lost on those involved in it.
Jesus has already commissioned his disciples to be those who would catch not fish but people. Catching them in the net of the kingdom of God and drawing them out of a life of darkness and sin into a restored life of love, joy, and the mercy of God. Fishing is already a well established symbol for the mission that the disciples are called to.
So what can we learn from this?
The secret of effective mission:
The first and most obvious point to reflect on is that in this encounter Jesus illustrates the key to effective mission. We see this in the following way: When the disciples go out to fish and throw out the nets where they please they catch nothing. However when they fish where Jesus instructs the to fish they catch so much that the nets nearly break.
The point is clear and simple – effective mission is only possible as we rely on Jesus Christ and his leading. And to do this we must be people, and a church, rooted in prayer and in deep communion with God.
Of the developing of endless strategies for evangelism there is no end. There are more ‘church growth’ conferences than it is possible to list. There is always a new tool or new initiative which promises to ‘land the catch’ and give us the ‘know-how’.
To quote the bible commentator Bruce Milne “the trouble with the ‘know-how’ of the western churches is not the knowledge in itself, in most cases, but the insidious temptation to trust in it.”
It is to this point that the story in John speaks so profoundly. There was nothing wrong with the disciples ‘know-how’ it just didn’t bring in any fish when they relied on it. When the heard the voice of Christ, responded, and relied on him, the catch was huge.
Read: John 15:1-5
These verses add a further focus to the idea that in our own strength and ability we cannot fulfil the mission that Christ calls us to, but in his strength and in his power we can play our part in the missionary calling of the church.
Discuss and pray: It is not difficult to see the importance of this incident in light of the mission of the church. It’s also easy to see its direct application to ourselves.
Are we individually and corporately, people who listen for the voice of Christ, respond to him and rely on him, and so see a great catch as we go about our mission? Or instead are we too busy to listen, too noisy to hear, and so reliant on our own know-how, planning, and good ideas?
It’s easy enough to talk about this in the context of the church corporately – but possibly more significant to talk about it as it relates to each member of the group personally.
The Scope of the mission:
One of the things I love about some of the early church theologians and preachers was their absolutely limitless ability to come up with incredible allegorical interpretations of passages of scripture. Their imaginations knew no bounds and depending on what they’d had for lunch (possibly of the liquid variety) one could end up almost anywhere…
When it comes to our passage today, one of the most well known allegorical interpretations comes from Jerome who claimed that the 153 fish caught represented all nations on earth. His logic? Well, at the time of writing some thought that there were 153 species of fish in the sea, therefore each species is represented in the net, which in the light of the link between the missionary call and fishing meant that the mission was to all nations, and that ‘fish’ would be caught in each and every nation.
Of course we know that there are far more than 153 species of fish in the seas, and so we might say that Jeromes conclusion is reasonable but the way of arriving at it is a little odd.
Putting aside the ‘153 fish’ we can infer from the size of the catch something about the scope of the mission of Christ.
The catch was so large that it must have been well beyond the expectation of the disciples who had up until that point caught nothing. Perhaps the same could be said of their expectations in being fishers of people? Perhaps they expected a small or moderate catch, a few here and there…but certainly not a net full to bursting. But here Jesus dramatically blows apart expectation. In effect he says to them ‘as you go out and fish where I tell you, the catch will be huge’ adding ‘but don’t worry the net won’t break because the catch can be accommodated.’
Discuss: What of our own expectations as fishers of people? To what degree do we share an expectation of a net full to bursting and to what degree are we willing to roll up our sleeves and play our part in hauling in the catch?
Pray: For each other as missionaries and fishers of people.
We closed our reading with the heart warming and really quite beautiful picture of Jesus eating with his disciples. Eating together in Jesus’ culture was deeply important and significant. It implied an invitation to fellowship and to the ‘communion of hearts’. And here Jesus re-iterates his invitation of fellowship and communion of the deepest kind.
As he builds a fire and cooks fish we see Jesus provision for them is immensely practical. (read Phil4:19 in light of this)
As he breaks bread the disciples minds are drawn back to the last supper and they are reminded that his provision for them is deeply spiritual. His body broken, his life poured out, that they may know communion with the Father.
And it is to this fellowship that the disciples are call others as they embark on the mission of Christ, casting their nets far and wide as he directs, and drawing in a catch that is surprisingly large but which can be kept safe in the nets.
Simon Butler, 29/04/2013