The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s161g07 Third Sunday of Easter 22/4/07
'do you love me?' John 21.15
What an odd question especially by one man to another! This is not meant to be sexist, but what woman would ask this of a man? It has of course spawned thousands of hymns professing devotion to the Lord. I think of the charismatic chorus: 'Oh how I love Jesus . because he first loved me'. And of course we too love Jesus in our reserved Anglican way - so we sing: 'There is a green hill far away'. Our Methodist roots would have us sing 'O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise!' One tongue is enough for me :-)!
Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and three times Peter affirms that he does. But Jesus is not satisfied with this answer. The love that people have for Jesus is NOT the important thing. The important thing is that we show our love for Jesus by feeding others. It doesn't matter what style of song we use to praise Jesus, or even whether we praise Jesus at all. The thing that matters is that we feed other people to do things that build them up - not to belittle them. To do things that lead to their wholeness not blow them to smithereens. To lift them to their feet not expect them to grovel before the almighty and the altar we have made. To enable them to become fully human and to think for themselves not be suitably compliant clones of us.
But besides this odd question, there is another oddity in this passage. This is that the risen Jesus provides bread and fish for the disciples to eat the one and only time Jesus ever does this.
In the feeding of the thousands, the loaves and the fish came from others. In the miracle of turning the water into wine, Jesus doesn't provide the water. During his ministry there were women who provided for the needs of the disciples and him. I do recall someone saying that the disciples were probably so helpless that Jesus cured Peter's mother in law essentially so he could get a cup of tea! (Mark 1.31)
And if you look at the feeding of the multitudes, the turning of the water into wine (John 2.12), and the huge catch of fish (Luke 5.11) all the 'proceeds' of these miracles were left to others. Jesus and his disciples didn't benefit.
I suppose that the fact that the risen Jesus provided real fish and real bread for the disciples to eat for breakfast means that his 'different' form, his resurrected body, is not so 'spiritual' that it cannot satisfy our material needs.
But there are some more oddities about this passage. The mention that there were 153 fish caught in the net I wonder who counted them? means that numbers are important. C. K. Barrett in his commentary notes that 153 is the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 17 now called a triangular number the sum of 10 and 7, both of which are separately indicative of completeness and perfection.
We are familiar with the fact that John uses different words for feeding and caring for the sheep, as well as two different words for sheep. But less obviously John uses three different Greek words for 'fish'! In our English, we don't have that many different words for 'fish'. I am left with the perception that Jesus as John records him, stressing variety along with completeness.
During this past week my attention has been drawn to St Paul's saying that we are baptised into the death of Jesus (Rom 6.3) and I reflect that we quickly take this to mean a personal spiritual experience. Each of us is our own worst enemy myself as much as anyone else. So we are quick to deduce that it must apply to us personally. Perhaps we ought to be grateful to the terrorists and suicide bombers whose atrocities appear on our news bulletins each night. They are the cause of the death of others like those that had Jesus killed. If we are baptised into the death of Jesus, there is no reason for anyone else to die either ourselves or anyone else or even both. We can operate to lift people to their feet rather than diminish others, feed others rather than hurt them. This is surely good news, for us as well as for others!
And we have the wherewithal to feed others, both physically and spiritually. We do not need to belittle others like women, gay people, people who hold a different faith or people who don't frequent temple, synagogue, mosque or church. We have the wherewithal to build these people up rather than alienate or marginalize them. We have the wherewithal because our faith includes others rather than excludes others. Our faith does not call us to blow someone else to smithereens, marginalise, alienate, or exclude them, but to feed them. For this is how we will prove that we love Jesus, and how others will prove that they love Jesus even if they don't believe in God, Jesus or all the things that we find so important.
Let me say that in my (not very humble opinion :-) if we proclaimed this message loudly and clearly, there would be a whole lot of people much more interested in coming to Church and praising Jesus, because this is a Jesus worth worshiping!
Instead the church is seen as affirming those who go to church and belittling those who don't. The church is seen as affirming those who are able to spend their time and energy supporting the church usually the elderly - and complaining about the younger generation both of whom work and haven't time to devote to parish life. Often both adults are working to be able to afford the fees of the local 'christian' school for their children! Instead the church seems to be concerned to affirm those who live a traditional 'christian' lifestyle and damning those who, for whatever reason, don't. Instead parts of the church are more concerned that their followers do not use birth control, condemning them to a life of poverty, illness and premature death. Is this obeying Jesus command to 'feed my sheep'? Is this how we love Jesus?
Perhaps this occasion when Jesus provided the meal for the first and only time, is 'the exception that proves the rule'. Time and again, Jesus used the offerings of others to work his miracles. Time and again as I've gone through the Church I have seen the church spurn the offerings of others, and so, guess what, should we be surprised if we don't see any miracles? Again, we have the wherewithal to feed others, if only we accept the offerings that others bring, even if and when they eclipse our own.
Do we love Jesus? Do we accept the offerings others bring? Do we feed their souls or are we mainly concerned with the preservation of our own temple and altar?
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