3rd Sunday in Easter - May 1, 2022

Updated: May 9

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be pleasing to you, O God, my strength and my Redeemer. +

Good morning.

Can I just tell you now that I both love and hate this passage from John’s Gospel?

It’s true.

If you were at 8 o’clock last Sunday or another liturgical church, then you heard about the disciple Thomas who doubted. Today, for many reasons, you get a doubting, perplexed Tammy. But if you just hang with me this morning, I think we can get to some Good News.

I am a 39-year educator who began as an English teacher, and my favorite part of English was teaching kids how to write. Graphic organizers, topic sentences, transitions, details to support your thesis. These details had to be specific and have purpose in order to move the story or argument forward in an organized, easy to follow manner resulting in a nice. tight. essay. You know…all the good stuff!

I have also shared with you previously how after some negative experiences, I abandoned church and the Bible for decades. Instead, reading books and/or listening to others speak of Spirituality and other means of having relationship with Divine.

One person that I read and listened to extensively was retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who wrote books such as, Re-Claiming the Bible for the Non-Religious World, and Resurrection: Myth or Reality?

Another favorite was Marcus Borg who wrote Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally and Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Power and How They Can be Restored.

I also read Marianne Williamson’s A Woman’s Worth which introduced me to the feminine Divine.

All of these and others caused me to rethink everything I had been taught to blindly believe about God and church without questioning or personal discernment.

Bringing those backgrounds with me, I then prepare for sermons by praying and reading a commentary or two.

So, with all of that in mind, when I read this 21st chapter of John, here’s how my mind worked—

  • The end of chapter 20 seems like the concluding paragraph: Jesus did many other signs, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and through believing have life in his name. Good conclusion! But wait …there’s another whole chapter…?

  • And who wrote this anyway, because the whole style and imagery changed from chapter 20 to chapter 21?

  • And the scene suddenly shifted from Jerusalem to Galilee and the Sea of Tiberias.

  • I wonder how much time has passed.

  • Why are some of the disciples named and others aren’t?

  • Nathanael? I never heard his name as a disciple before.

  • Is Peter going fishing because he has fully returned to his previous, pre-Jesus life?

  • It sounds like the others are just joining him out of habit. Maybe they are all depressed.

  • They have to still be reeling from the whole crucifixion/resurrection ordeal.

  • Why are they fishing at night?

  • They didn’t catch anything all night and this strange, unknown person calls them “children”

  • Wow! How awesome would it be to hear Jesus actually call you “children”!

  • He tells them to toss the nets on the “right” side.

  • Is that right as opposite of left, or right as opposite of wrong?

  • Why would they listen to a stranger?

  • You know, there have been other fishing stories in the Bible, and these guys don’t seem to be very good at their job in any of those stories. Is there any place mentioned in the Bible where the disciples caught fish without Jesus’ help? (Side note--According to the commentary, that answer is no.)

  • This “disciple whom Jesus loved” is the first to recognize Jesus, but he doesn’t act.

  • Peter didn’t recognize Jesus, but he is the first to act by jumping into the sea – after putting clothes on, yet today we are taught to take cumbersome clothes off before jumping into the water. In all the pictures, the disciples wear long robes. How can anyone swim in that!

  • And who is this “disciple whom Jesus loved” anyway? I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer to that question.

  • The specific detail that they had caught 153 large fish seems out of place. Does it signify that there was an abundance, or is there particular meaning to 153, instead of 152 or 154? Maybe it was the authors favorite number, like Mr. Miller always using 417 in high school.

  • That breakfast on the beach seems like a pretty subdued affair.

  • Is it significant that this is the 3rd time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he raised from the dead?

  • And what about that whole raised from the dead business? Was the actual, physical body of Jesus raised after 3 days?

  • There’s that number 3 again, maybe it’s a nod to the Holy Trinity.

  • Or was the Resurrection “really the dawning of a new consciousness, the birth of a new vision of humanity, the mystical act of achieving oneness with that which is eternal” as Bishop Spong suggests? (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, p. 313)

  • Whoops. Here we go now into a new story. Jesus is asking Peter if Peter loves him “more than these”. Who or what are these? The other disciples? Is Jesus trying to rank love here, or is this just a phrase to stress the intensity of Peter’s love?

  • And now Jesus is asking Peter if Peter loves him…How many times? Yep, 3 again.

  • I wonder if my feelings would have been hurt like Peters. Seems like a pretty normal human response…

  • You know, I just noticed that Jesus is really answering Peter with 3 different responses. I always thought it was “Feed my sheep”, “Feed my sheep”, “Feed my sheep”…

  • Wow…another sharp turn again with Jesus telling Peter about how Peter’s death will happen and how it will glorify God. How did that not blow Peter’s mind?

  • Jesus’ simple statement of “Follow me” to end verse 19 seems like yet another great conclusion, but then there are 4 more verses to this chapter that aren’t even part of this Sunday’s reading. I know these Episcopalians like questions, but I can’t even go there…!

Right now, y’all are probably either as tired as I am, or you are secretly dialing your cell phone trying to find someone to get me immediate help.

Let me just assure you I’m okay. I really am okay. And maybe, just maybe, you have had questions similar to mine.

With so many seemingly different snippets of stories with seemingly unrelated details, how do we make sense of the 21st chapter of John? How do we avoid the trap of arguing is it “real”? Is it historical? Is it just symbolism and allegory? Questions and arguments that can divide the family of God. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get overwhelmed by it all.

And that is when I just stop, tell my mind to stop, and go to what is for me the foundational verses. (Mark 12).

Jesus said… 30 ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

With those words calming my mind and soul, I can look anew at this 21st chapter in the Gospel of John.

And what I see is Jesus teaching us HOW to love our neighbor.

“Feed my lambs.” -- How precious is the tenderness in those words, instructing us to feed all children, both body and spirit.

“Tend my sheep.” – Be a good shepherd to all creation; people, animals, plants, our earthly home.

“Feed my sheep.” – None should go hungry. All should be fed with food, love, acceptance.

Just as Jesus fed and tended the disciples, Christ still tends and feeds us today. And because God first loved us in this way, we are empowered to go forth feeding, tending and loving our neighbor. Even those of us who sometimes doubt or are perplexed or ask too many questions.

And that, my friends, is Good News.

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