Jesus Showed Himself Again to the Disciples
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
Dr. Bob Cutillo is a physician for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in Denver and an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. In an article published in June (2018) titled If Despair Is The Disease, What Is The Treatment?, Cutillo included this anecdote from his clinical practise:
“I met a patient a few months ago who unnerved me with the revelation that he had attempted suicide more than six times in his life. Too stunned to speak, I was grateful he had more to say. He said that each time some surprising circumstance had intervened to thwart his efforts. And then he resurrected an old image. “I don’t think there’s much use in trying again. God must have a reason I’m still here.””
1. Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. As I re-read the story of this post-resurrection breakfast on the beach Jesus has with these disciples, it jumped off the page; this statement that Jesus shows himself again to the disciples, seemed highlighted. It had me thinking how it is that Jesus is always coming to us. Our Lord’s promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20) comes to life as we see Jesus come to the shore of Galilee early this particular morning to meet with these seven of his disciples who have gone fishing. And, yes, he does have a reason for doing so—but we will get to that in a few moments.
It is an amazing thing to us that a young man in the fog of despair can reflect upon his thwarted suicide attempts and draw on an image he learned somewhere in life that God has a purpose for his life and then decide that he ought not to try to attempt such again so he can live out that purpose however vague that purpose is in his imagination. It is amazing to us—but is it really? The scriptures reveal that the chief characteristic of the living God is that God speaks. So it ought not to surprise us that God is ever approaching people to speak his love of their lives into their hearts and imaginations.
Like us, as Christians have gathered for worship this day around the world, we bring with us the joys and sorrows, delights and difficulties, blessing and burdens typical of our world. Some are looking forward to a joyful event like a wedding, anniversary, or birthday celebration; perhaps a holiday or a long-anticipated visit with family. Some maybe carrying concern for an ill loved one, or worry with respect to employment, or the crush of unexpected financial demand, or the sorrow of bereavement. The wonder of worship is that our Lord comes again to meet us.
Think again about the patient that Dr. Cutillo spoke about; his picture of God having purpose for his life was vague but somehow encouraged him. We should never underestimate the privilege we have in knowing and learning the stories of the Bible. The point I underline here is that whatever we are carrying with us today—it may even be a quite despair about something—we are invited to let this image of Jesus inform our experience. I recall one ministry colleague who was always reaching for a story of Jesus to help think through a present problem or challenge. I thought her approach powerful. In brief, whatever we come to church with today let this image that “Jesus showed himself again to the disciples” inform you and me about what really is going on. Let this coming of Jesus shape your imagination about your life.
We all have had them—moments of hindsight when we know the only explanation for our experience was the hand of God protecting or guiding or leading us. Moments when we know what happened just couldn’t have been happenstance. Hasn’t Jesus always been coming to us? For a whole variety of reasons we are hesitant to say so. The saying we have of someone having a “come to Jesus” moment (or needing too) is usually associated with a direction change in life. We speak of “coming to Jesus, but in reality is it not the other way around—Jesus has come to us and ours is response to his initiative?
These stories in the Bible help us to learn how to think about life with gospel perspective. “Jesus showed himself again to the disciples” tells us what to expect in our faith relationship. So keep this and other stories of Jesus close to your heart and ready in your imagination; these stories teach us how to think of our experience replete with the wonders of his loving presence.
2. John’s gospel goes on to say—“and he showed himself in this way.” The story that unfolds is Jesus making himself known to them in the midst of this very ordinary fishing excursion. Jesus comes to us in the ordinary of life. Yes, as we gather in his name as his people in church he promises to be among us for sure. But Jesus’ approach to us also includes where we work, in the institutions of our education, where we live, in the ordinary endeavours of our lives.
Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, plus to other disciples (unnamed) are back in Galilee. It would be hard to describe the shock to the system that the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion and discovery of the empty tomb and resurrection appearances would have been for them. The women had reported how the angel at the tomb told them that “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.” (Matthew 28:7) They have to be wondering what’s next.
Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” You will recall that Jesus had called Peter to leave his fishing business behind and follow him and that Jesus would make them fishers of people. Fishing is what Peter knows. Some have postulated that Peter is abandoning the mission Jesus gave them; others that Peter acts out of aimlessness or desperation not knowing what to do. I am more of the mind that Peter knows (as do the rest) that they have to eat and fishing is the business he knows so he takes action to do something to provide for life. A night on the lake would be the obvious recourse for men like Peter and James and John (also worked in the family fishing business).
Just after daybreak Jesus stands on the beach. Some wonder why the disciples don’t recognize that it is Jesus. The day is just dawning and the morning light dim. It was customary that fish-sellers would come to the beach to see if those who had gone fishing had some product to sell. But notice the mounting clues to the identity of the one standing on the beach such that the disciple whom Jesus loved declares, “It is the Lord!” and then Peter goes charging from the boat to meet him.
First there is the familiar address. Jesus calls out to them, “Children.” The Greek word used here is a term of endearment like saying, “hey boys.” It is a term you use with people you know. When I go golfing on a sunny morning with some male friends I know well I might say something like, “Well boys, it’s a beautiful day.” If I were golfing with people with whom I am not as well acquainted with I would be more circumspect, not so familiar. It is clear the one standing on the beach knows them. So too for us, you recognize Jesus in your life because of how intimately he knows you.
“You have no fish, have you?” Jesus continues. How does this person on the shore know that? Maybe experienced fish-sellers can tell by how low the boat is riding in the water but the second clue to Jesus identity is that he knows that their fishing expedition has been fruitless. Jesus is well aware of the circumstances of our lives and is able to put his finger on where we are struggling. You can be confident as you pray regarding points of struggle in life that our Lord knows it completely. The disciples have to admit they have no fish. Our Lord is quite open to engaging with us regarding these matters.
Jesus calls out to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” And now the disciples—or at least this one disciple—remembers he has heard this kind of instruction before. It was that time near Gennesaret when Jesus stood in one of Peter’s boats to preach to the throng gathered on the shore. After the sermon, Jesus said to Peter to put out into the deep and cast the net—Peter pushed back noting that they had fished all night and caught nothing. (Luke 5:1-6)
The clues that it is Jesus on the shore are mounting. “So they cast the net, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.” Finally the recognition, “It is the Lord!” Knowing the scriptural stories of Jesus inform us on how to recognize him in our lives. The Jesus of the gospels is the Jesus who comes to us.
Note with me that Jesus provides a great haul of fish. He shows them that he knows they need to eat. This mission of his he calls them to serve is a mission in which he will provide the necessities of life. And note as well that Jesus invites them to have a breakfast he has cooked for them. You recognize Jesus in your life because he wants to commune with you. When you offer a prayer of thanks for a meal know too that Jesus would be present with you and so pray “be present at our table.”
The apostle John adds a comment to this story: “This was the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” The third time? Why was a third time necessary? Weren’t the previous two times enough? First the risen Jesus had appeared to the eleven in the upper room when they were fearful. Then he had appeared to them with Thomas when they were doubting. And after two such appearances the disciples still want to go back fishing?
The most common metaphor for faith in scripture is marriage. Even though we have plenty of evidence that our spouse loves us, do we not find it important to hear an expression of that love on a continuing basis? The truth is, all of us always stand in need of a new visitation from our Lord and a new word from him. We never get beyond needing yet another apprehension and word.
3. And now a note on the purpose of our Lord’s showing himself again to the disciples. In 1849 Søren Kierkegaard explored the relationship between despair and death in his intriguing little book The Sickness Unto Death. At the risk of oversimplifying, his conclusion is that the only way out of despair is to be who you were meant to be. And the only way that will be possible is to recognize that you have not established yourself; you have been established by something else, rather someone else. Despair ends when “the self is grounded transparently in the power that established it.”
In a sense Kierkegaard’s conclusion describes what is happening between Peter and Jesus. God is love, the Apostle John tells us. The power, then, that established our lives is love. It is clear that Jesus loves Peter; loves him enough to forgive his desertion and denials; loves him enough never to abandon but to restore him to service. And then our Lord’s question—do you love me? A question that invites Peter to find who he was meant to be; a question directing Peter because this can only be found in a love relationship with the one who first loved us.
Jesus also puts to us the same question he put to Peter: “Do you love me?” The Greek word for “love” that Jesus uses here is strong: it’s love in the sense of total self-giving, total self-outpouring, thorough self-forgetfulness, utter self-abandonment. It’s the word used of God himself, “for God so loved the world that he gave—himself, utterly, without remainder or regret—in his Son.”
I have noted with you previously that Peter doesn’t use the same word for “love” that Jesus has used. Peter uses a weaker word. Jesus has said, “Are you willing to sign yourself over to me, abandon yourself to me, never looking back?” Peter is nervous now about vowing anything this large, since the last time he vowed something large he disgraced himself. And so now Peter replies, “You know that I’m fond of you; you know that I care for you.”
We know that our Lord’s love for us always exceeds our love for him and still this is no barrier to serving our purpose in him. Peter receives his commission, “Feed my sheep.” Love for Jesus grows as we serve him in his purpose of making his love known in the world. Love for him and service of him feed one another leading us to more complete service and deeper love.
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Amen.