Every town that has at least 20,000 people in it always seems to have a store that specializes in lighting. Smaller towns, I assume, figure you get lighting where you can, even if by candle ;). These stores have a multiplicity of lighting apparatuses and lighting systems, from very big, to very small, from very elaborate to very simple...and everything in between! There was a great big lighting store in the area I grew up. I remember going into this lighting store with my parents and being told very seriously...."look, but DO NOT TOUCH!" It was a challenge for me, as it would be for any red blooded 8 year old boy not to want to touch those bright, shining and sometimes very awkward and, looking back on it, very expensive lights, but I managed to go in there at least three times during my childhood and not break a thing (notice I said not break, not "not touch, but not break ;). There's a story of a little girl who also went into one of these very exclusive lighting stores with her parents. Unlike me she minded well and did not touch. When they left the store her mother asked her, "What light did you like most?" The little girl responded, "The ones that lights shine out!" There are currently 300,000 different churches in the US today, and like the light store with its verity of lights, they all differ in many ways. Some are big, some are small, some are all white, some are all black, and some are a combination. Some speak English, some speak Spanish and some speak in languages no ones ever heard of. Also like those lights in the lighting store some shine bright, some are dim, and some are just plain turned off and even unplugged! I think if we asked God the same question the little girl was asked, but instead we asked about the various kinds of churches, God's answer would be the same as that little girls, "The ones that lights shine out!"
Thats what God wants from God's church, lights shinning out, but how do we shine in this new word with its new challenges coupled with its old issues. This new world where there are still wars and rumors of wars, where there's destruction and violence and uncertainty, but now on top of all that there's a new society where church matters less than organized sports. Where families spend their Sundays at baseball diamonds, hockey rinks and basketball courts instead of in worship. We still live in a world of hopelessness and despair, we still live in a world that longs for meaning and fellowship, yet the people in our world seem to be finding all those things in other places! The truth is our post-modern issues of the 21st century aren't too much different than Jesus' antique issue found in the 1st century. Jesus' world was teetering on madness, filled with wars and rumors of wars, famine, a world lost hopelessly in despair filled with people longing for meaning and purpose, yet they found it in the person of Jesus Christ and that hasn't changed...Jesus is still the answer!
Our passage this week, like last weeks, comes from the gospel of John. John is a unique gospel. The others are unique as well, but John says something’s that, in many ways, are much different than what the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have to say. The Gospel of John is the most recent of the Gospels written. Scholars estimate that it was written between 92-105 A.D. This gospel has a high Christology, meaning it focuses on the divine nature of Jesus more than his human nature. Since it's newer it has more developed theological terms and assumes there are just some things the readers already know and believe. A community of faith known as the Johanian Community preserved this Gospel. They were a community of believers, maybe a church or a district or conference of churches, but whatever they were called they were devoted to St. John's vision of Jesus and the Gospel. It's widely accepted that the person who authored the first 20 chapters did not author the last chapter. Chapter 21 has a different author, meaning...it was not John or some kind of second-generation disciple of John. Either way the community of the Johanian Church accepted it as a divinely inspired work and added it.
This passage is one that my Systematic Theology Professor, Dr. Chun, would say is "pregnant with infinite possibility." Meaning that there is so much here for us to discuss and "unpack." First this miraculous catch is just like the miraculous catch when they were called to follow Rabbi Jesus. Is this somehow a second call or a reminder of their first and only call. Next we see both Peter and John (the Beloved as the Gospel of John refers to him) recognize Jesus and respond. One responds in word (John, "It is the Lord!") and the other responds in action (Peter, "jumps into the water and swims to shore."). This is important because it demonstrates the full and complete response to the gospel, word and action, finally there’s this issue with the number of fish that was caught that morning. The Gospel says there was 153 fish caught, as if someone counted them all. Why 153? This number has keep bible scholars and End time fanatics busy for a millennium! Personally I think there's a simpler, more practical answer. If there are 153 fish someone had to count them, it is a specific number and not an outrageous number. One thing this number does is give weight to their testimony about the risen Christ. Someone was there to count the specific number of fish therefore it must of have actually happened…that’s one reason. St. Jerome taught a more allegorical meaning. He said that the 153 fish represented all the fish species in the world. (There are actually more than 230,000 fish species that we know of today) St. Jerome believed that this was symbolic of all the nations of the earth...after all they had been turned from fishers of fish to fishers of men. This was all Jesus’ way of telling them to cast wide nets for the hearts, souls and lives of mankind. One other interesting fact is that the nets never broke. The passage goes on and on about the enormity of the catch and that the nets held regardless to how many jumped in. Why? Because Jesus not only calls his disciples to cast wide nets over all of humanity, but he promises that he will not lose them.
Some people we wish would get out of the net, some races, some religions, some nations, some sexual orientations...even some other kinds of Christians. For those we would gladly cut the nets open and allow them to swim away, but that's not the plan, nor is it the purpose Jesus has for his disciples. Contrary to its reputation, John is one of the most inclusive stories of Jesus out there. Despite this being the Jesus whom my Comparative Religions Professor, Thomas Tangeraj said was "A narcissist" I find the message of this gospel to be one of universal salvation. Yes Jesus said we has the way in John and yes he said there is no other way, yet it's clear that it's his way of living that is the way and the only to the father is living this way and then there's this invitation to all who desire to "jump in the nets" to join him and then there's this mandate to his disciples to spread wide those nets and catch any and every fish that jumps in and keep them.
This week we hear loud and clear Jesus calling to any and all who would receive him. Most importantly for the Christian, Jesus is instructing us not to count anyone out for any reason, but to cast wide nets and trust that he will not lose any of them.
Blessed Easter three,