Thursday, April 11, 2013

Towards Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reading:  John 21:1-19

I used to have a book from the Sixties titled What To Do Till The Messiah Comes -- a wonderful compendium of photos and thoughts about inner happiness, community, and living in touch with creation and creativity.

Whether religious or secular, fifty years later many people still live with the same focus -- what to do till Jesus returns (and the kingdom comes), what to do till we elect the right leader (and our country's decline is reversed), what to do till I win the lottery (and my life becomes a personal paradise on earth).  What do we do until...?

I think the Gospel of John suggests a different question: what to do now that...especially, now that the messiah has come?

This is especially clear in John 21, which tells the story of a strangely subdued, even awkward meeting of some of the disciples and the risen Jesus.

The awkwardness of the story and the way in which John 20 (vv. 30-31 especially) really seems to offer a natural end to the Gospel, leads some commentators to suggest that John 21 was added later by another hand, as a kind of epilogue or post-script -- an answer to the question: so what do we now that the messiah has come?

The story in John 21 incorporates a number of themes and images from the Gospel:

  • the meal of fish recalls John 6:1-14 (feeding of 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish), suggesting that Christ's generosity in feeding his followers is not limited to the past, but continues in the present
  • the catch of fish recalls other gospel stories current in the early church (e.g. Luke 5:6-7) and the fact that Jesus' disciples never catch or accomplish anything except at his direction
  • the slow recognition of the messiah recalls Mary's slow recognition in John 20, and the disciples' slowness in coming to understand and accept the risen Lord, suggesting that the church never finds it easy to recognize the risen Lord
  • the invitation to come and eat recalls Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet and acting as their table servant in John 13:3-17, suggesting that the risen Jesus comes in the same humility as did Jesus in the flesh
  • the 3-fold question of Peter's love for Jesus recalls and redeems his 3-fold denial, foretold by Jesus in John 13:38 and acted out in John 18:15-17, 25-27
  • the 3-fold command to care for his sheep recalls Jesus' description of himself as shepherd and sheepfold in John 10, suggesting that the way God's kingdom love was known then, continues still
Overall, the message seems to be that what was true of and with Jesus when he walked this earth in the flesh, continues still.  The Gospel is not locked in the past, but continues in the present.  The kingdom of the messiah is not future, it is here now.  The story of Jesus of Nazareth has come to a conclusion, but the living drama of Christ continues.

Did you notice, for instance, the unusually indeterminate dating of this story -- "after these things" -- which could mean any (and every?) time after the first appearances of the risen Jesus?

And the setting of the story (at the end of a long night of fruitless fishing, with dawn just breaking) recalls the very opening of the Gospel, and its affirmation of the light coming into the darkness, that the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).  Even though there is still darkness and frustration in our lives and that of that of the world, the light shines and God's kingdom dawns today, again and again, as it did then in him.

So maybe one question to bring this to a focus, and lead us into the dawning of the light where we are:  the story in John 21 seems to come to a point in the 3-fold command to carry on the ministry of Jesus -- to care for, feed and pasture Christ's sheep, and to be willing to give our lives in this as he did.  Who and where are Christ's sheep today in Winona, Hamilton and Niagara that we are to care for, feed and pasture?

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