3rd Sunday of Easter
3rd Sunday / Easter / C
April 9-10, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
Today's Gospel raises several questions for me. Why did Jesus and his disciples eat fish? Lent is over, and you don't have to do that anymore! That is just dumb. Or who eats fish and bread for breakfast? Why not an egg and sausage casserole? Or why did they count the number of fish, and what is the meaning behind 153 of them?
But the biggest question, the most obvious question, is why were they fishing? The apostles had already met the risen Christ, they knew he was alive. But then they go back to business as if nothing ever happened, and nothing had really changed in their lives, which is odd.
We might wonder why Jesus chose uneducated fishermen to be his apostles. It would seem to make more sense to choose educated rabbis, people more sophisticated, more religious.
Fr. James Martin in his book My Life with the Saints has an interesting section where we he gives six possible reasons why Jesus chose fishermen: (pp. 233-234) 1) Fishermen need patience to wait until the fish take the bait. Disciples need patience to learn to wait for results. 2) Fishermen need perseverance to keep at it when the fish are not biting. Disciples need perseverance to keep at it and be faithful even when we are not successful. 3) Fishermen need courage to go out even when there is a possibility of a storm or shipwreck. Disciples need courage to go out even when it is safer to stay on the shore. 4) Fishermen need an eye for the right moment to cast a line or drop a net. Disciples need an eye for the right moment, of when to speak and when to be silent. 5) Fishermen need to fit the bait for the fish, because the same lure does not work for all types of fish. Disciples need to know different ways how to reach many different types of people for Christ. 6) Finally fishermen are more successful if they stay out of sight. Disciples need to present Christ to others while remaining in the background. So perhaps it does make sense Jesus chose fishermen as his apostles and the first evangelizers.
But the question remains---why did they go back to fishing? Today's Gospel follows after last Sunday's Gospel about doubting Thomas, so they all knew he was risen. Why did they go back to fishing? My fallible theory is this: The original Gospel of John ended with last Sunday's story about Thomas. Today's story and the one that follows it about Jesus asking Peter three times "Do you love me?" were added later to John's Gospel. So the sequence does not flow well, although it is still inspired by the Holy Spirit even though it is tacked on to the end.
John is the latest of the four Gospels to be written, perhaps as late as the year 100. So it would have reflected the experience of the early church, for several generations now. The Gospel says that the apostles worked hard, fished all night long, and caught nothing. They were trying to do it on their own power. Jesus tells them to cast the net to the other side. In other words, to do it my way instead of your way, and something good will happen. And they caught a huge number of fish.
Perhaps the early church told this story to remind themselves of this truth: Often we say, "Lord, I got this. I can do this on my own." We work hard, wanting to do good things in our lives, but nothing is happening. The Lord says to them, and so says to us, do it my way instead of your way. Even when it is counter-intuitive and does not make sense, when we are obedient to God, it all works out. When we are obedient to God, things just fall into place, and good things happen.
My guess is that many of us spend the first half of our lives trying to live our lives our way, on our own willpower. We work hard and are often frustrated, and our lives are not fruitful or joyful.
Only after we fail and fall flat on our face are we open to something new. Only then do we truly invite the Lord into our lives and give him the steering wheel. Only then do we really understand God's mercy, and know his power in our lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus asks his apostles who went back to fishing, "Have you caught anything?" "No, nothing." "Then try doing it this way, my way." And their nets were filled to overflowing.
Only in obedience to God were their eyes opened, and they recognized Jesus standing right there in front of them. May the same thing happen to us.