The Third Sunday of Easter
April 10, 2016
Charles Graves IV
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Almost exactly one year ago, I was standing on a boat with some friends. It was a good-sized wooden schooner, fitting about thirty of us on board, rocking gently on the soft wind-blown waters on a clear spring day. That boat was perched peacefully upon the Sea of Galilee, with Israeli soil a few miles behind us, Jordan to our right and the edge of Syria straight ahead, just 10 miles in the distance. Looking out across the water to the seashore, I stood astounded at the mountains that seemed to jut out almost directly from the waters with very little lowland in between.
With a 360 degree view to the waters’ edge on every side, I could almost see Jesus standing there at the shoreline, his voice ringing out clearly on a nearly windless day. Some local fishermen taught us how to throw out a large fishing net, quite like the type that would have been used in Jesus’ time. It was enormous and heavy and unwieldy, requiring several strong people and lots of practice to accomplish correctly. I gave a hand at it myself, trying my best to cast it out far and wide without getting tangled in between! Long story short, the net went about 2 feet outside the boat, fell against the side and nearly caught up my ankle along the way! Needless to say, I would have been a TERRIBLE fisherman if I had been around two thousand years ago! We certainly did NOT catch any fish that day.
The Disciples, some weeks after the glorious Resurrection of Christ, appear similarly dispirited, as their morning fishing expedition seems to go on without success (although they were much better fisherman than I am!). The mysterious voice from the shore of the sea essentially dares them to admit defeat. “How many fish do you have?”. “None” they must dejectedly confess.
But that voice, whom they soon realize is the Lord, isn’t satisfied to leave them hungry and forlorn at the end of an unsuccessful day. Try again, he tells them. “Cast your nets on the right side of the boat” – making an unambiguous connection that exists throughout Scripture, associating the right-hand side with the ideas of justice and righteousness.
As we know, the Disciples do throw their nets to the right side of the boat, and before they know it, the boat was filled with so many fish that it’s a miracle that the net didn’t break. The Gospel tells us 153 were hauled in, which may or may not have been literally accurate as that was a symbolic number used to represent abundance. Nonetheless, the point is the same. It was a LOT of fish! A lot!
So with fish in hand, the disciples sail back to meet Jesus at the shoreline, and they go off to almost comically have breakfast together. Imagine 8 people including Jesus, going off to have a breakfast of some bread and 153 fish! There must’ve been some leftovers for later!
Jesus though, isn’t satisfied to just give his people an abundant supply. He’s not content to just feed his people, but he tells them exactly what to do with that abundance. The words are among my favorite and most stirring commands in the whole of Scripture. He turns to Peter probably so close that Jesus could have breathed on him, and calls him not by the name he goes by as an adult, but by his Hebrew name, the name his mother & father gave him. Jesus goes way back & calls him by his government name, like when parents call their kid by their full name, middle name and all – you know it’s serious!
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Do you love me more than the abundance? More than the fish & the bread, more than all the material substance that’s laid out before us? “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” – “Feed my sheep.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter says again the exact same response “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you!” – “Feed my sheep.”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” And so the same Simon Peter who had denied Jesus 3 times before the crucifixion, as we read on Palm Sunday a few weeks ago, is now given his third opportunity to turn it around, and in a sense to make it right. I love how palpable his exasperation is here:
Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!
FEED MY SHEEP
Every single day, in moments large and small, God asks each of us the same question – Charles do you love me? Yes, you know I do! do you love me? Yes of course! FEED MY SHEEP.
That’s it. Feed my sheep. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd Himself, isn’t satisfied that we simply say that we love him. Every single time we tell Jesus that we love him, he responds by insisting that we do something about it! This Christian life – as our Presiding Bishop reminds us, the Jesus Movement – is not a solely mental or spiritual exercise. It’s a life lived with our heads, our hearts AND our hands – for that matter our entire souls and bodies.
This week, I came across the following anonymous poem, and it stopped me clear in my tracks:
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me about the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Christian, you seem so holy; so close to God. But I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold…
In this season of Easter in which we continue to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, we don’t get to just stand there & admire Jesus’ empty tomb, then go back to our regularly scheduled programming. Easter is an entirely transformative experience, not confined to one part of our being but requiring us to Love with our mind, body, soul AND spirit. It’s not just that our minds or hearts or mouths are transformed – so are our hands and feet, and we’ve got to act on it!
Feed my sheep.
If we say we love Jesus, we HAVE to act like it. We have to serve the poor and those in need. We HAVE to take care of one another, we HAVE to give to those who are less fortunate. It’s not optional. Like the 153 fish and the baskets of bread that Jesus shared with the disciples that day by the Sea of Galilee, we too have been given a great abundance. It is our obligation, then, and our duty and our privilege to share that abundance in kind. Feed Christ’s sheep. Care for those around you. Little by little it will change the world.