Saturday, April 23, 2016
If there is one lesson I've learned in life, it is to always take food when I go fishing. You see I am the reason it's called “fishing,” not “catching.” You can count the fish I've caught in life without using your toes. As much as I enjoy it, fishing is not one of my great talents. Not so for Simon Peter, James, John and the other two; they were fishermen by trade and when Jesus was assassinated, and their dream ended, going fishing again seemed like a normal and reasonable. Maybe they were broke and needed the money a night of fishing would generate, or maybe they yearned for the quiet of a night on the lake, and the feeling of good, hard work. Whatever their reasons, when Simon Peter announced he was going fishing, his friends did not hesitate to join him.
It was not a good night to be fishing. All night long they had toiled, tossing out the nets, pulling them back in, time after time, but to no avail. As the son peeked over the mountain tops, their boat was as empty of fish as my creel. Physically tired and spiritually depleted, they made their way back to the shore.
“Friends, did you catch any fish?” This is an almost universal greeting/question among those who fish. “How you doing? How many have you caught?” And so calls out the stranger on the shore. To their dismay, Simon and his friends confessed their nets were empty. He said to them, "Throw your net out on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some." The instructions from the shore would have sounded familiar: in Luke 5, after using Simon's boat as a pulpit, When Jesus had finished speaking, he told Simon, "Row the boat out into the deep water and let your nets down to catch some fish." "Master," Simon answered, "we have worked hard all night long and have not caught a thing. But if you tell me to, I will let the nets down." They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart. (Luk 5:4-6). So once again they threw the net out and could not pull it back in, because they had caught so many fish; 153 in all.
As D. A. Carson observes,
"Large quantities of ink have gone into explaining why there should be 153 fish. At the purely historical level, it is unsurprising that someone counted them, either as part of dividing them up among the fishermen in preparation for sale, or because one of the men was so dumbfounded by the size of the catch that he said something like this: ‘Can you believe it? I wonder how many there are?'"
I agree: this event made such a lasting impression on John, that he remembered the exact number of fish they picked up. Just as he remembered the name of Malchus, whose ear Peter severed. I read no more into 153 fish, than I do into the 2000 donkeys in 1 Chr 5:21.
By the simple act of preparing breakfast, the risen Christ demonstrates once again, the concept of servant leadership: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. A story a young mother tried to instill in her children. The Mom was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue about who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.
"If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.'" Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"
Just last week two of the leading presidential candidates proved incapable of the simple act of getting on a New York Subway....something they hadn't done in so long one of them thought it still took a token! The famous and powerful are so used to having others take care of the mundane things in life, like cooking breakfast, that they have no idea of what life is like for those who made them famous and powerful.
Against this backdrop Jesus tells Peter, and us “Feed my sheep.” Three times Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter says: “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” and three times Jesus responds: “Feed my sheep. Care for my lambs. Feed my sheep.” This is how we express our love for Jesus; how every act of caring becomes an act of worship. The call is not to love those who love Jesus, but to love those whom Jesus loves; to love every human being, even those who actively oppose us and would harm us. To feed, house, and clothe those who flee warfare and oppression. To cook breakfast for those who are homeless and unkempt. To treat with dignity those who speak a different language. To respect those who toil in the fields' planting and harvesting our food.
As Christians, the questions we should be asking our politicians is not: “What will you do for me? Or “How high will you build the wall?” But, “how will you lead us in caring for the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless here and around the world?” How can we resurrect programs like the Marshall plan that helped both allies and former enemies rebuild after WWII? How can we provide not just jobs, but jobs that will allow every child to be fed, clothed, loved,cared for and educated; every man and woman the ability to provide for the needs of their families? How can we lead the nations in creating an environment of care and respect for human life?”
Frederick Buechner, in The Magnificent Defeat reminds us:
"The love for equals is a human thing—of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
"The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing—the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
"The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing—to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.
"And then there is the love for the enemy—love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer. This is God's love. It conquers the world."
Our task is clear: “ Feed my sheep, care for my lambs,” The question before us is how? How do we do this as a congregation? With our own members? With other Christians? With non-believers? How do we do this as individuals, within the context of our own lives? How do we do this as a society? As a nation? In the midst of our politics? I challenge us to seek ways to care for those who Jesus loves. Seek them and put them into practice.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.