April 10, Third Sunday of Easter:
Moving around in the midst of this sea, I couldn’t help but think how the disciples must have felt. Physically tired and emotionally exhausted from the days leading up to the crucifixion and the ensuing fear and uncertainty. Unsure what to do now that their beloved teacher and friend is gone. Disappointed as they fail at the one thing they have to return to, their comfort zone: fishing.
In that moment, tired and discouraged after a long night, as beams of light just begin to peak over the horizon Jesus appears on the shore.
I can only imagine what Jesus was thinking standing there on the beach. As he looked out at his disciples, watching as they struggled to catch fish. His disciples, who so soon after his death and resurrection had already returned their previous vocation. His disciples who appear to have already forgotten.
As a former teacher, I’ve stood on that shore. Looking out over a class, thinking we’d finally made a breakthrough, only to realize we were right back where we started. It’s a frustrating place to stand. A good teacher will keep the eye rolling and frustration hidden from the class as he patiently begins again from the beginning. And that’s exactly what Jesus does.
With love, Jesus calls out to them. “Children, you have no fish, have you? Cast the net to the right side of the boat…” His voice rings out across the water. The disciples don’t know who this is shouting fishing advice from the shore, but they choose to take his advice anyways. It pays off. They are overwhelmed by the amount of fish and can’t even haul in their catch. And it’s then, in the growing light of early morning that recognition dawns.
The disciples make their way to shore and Jesus issues an invitation. “Come and have breakfast.” I have the fire ready and some bread, sit with me, eat.
A light flashed.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul was traveling along the road to Damascus, filled with rage, on the hunt for anyone who dared to follow the Way. Dusty and tired from his journey he must have felt relieve as he finally approached his destination. In this moment of vulnerability, Jesus appears simply in light and voice, knocking him to the ground with a life-changing question. “Why do you persecute me?”
How is Jesus calling out to you?
Is it a challenge to change direction like Paul encounters on the road to Damascus? Is it an offer of assistance and nourishment like the disciples experience by the Sea of Tiberias? Is it a cry of welcome like that of the fish market? Perhaps, it is something entirely different.
It’s often my experience, and perhaps you’ve felt this way too, that reading accounts of Jesus’ dramatic appearances in the lives of the disciples or Paul or the prophets leaves me a bit jealous. Why isn’t God using some phenomenal way of calling me?
Recently, I came across this ancient tale that tells the story of a disciple who asks the Holy One,
“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?
“Here,” the Holy One said.
“When will it happen?”
“It is happening right now,” the Holy One said.
“Then why don’t I experience it?”
“Because you do not look,” the Holy One said.
“What should I look for?”
“Nothing,” the Holy One said. “Just look.”
“Anything your eyes alight upon,” the Holy One said.
“Must I look in a special kind of way?”
“No,” the Holy One said. “The ordinary way will do.”
“But don’t I always look the ordinary way?”
“No,” the Holy One said. “You don’t.”
“Why ever not?” the disciple demanded.
“Because to look you must be here,” the Holy One said. “You’re mostly somewhere else.” [1 Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (New York: Crossroad, ©2010), 299-300.]
It’s easy to forget to pay attention. Jesus didn’t appear to his disciples or to Paul under such unusual circumstances. He shows up in their day-to-day lives.
The disciples weren’t out looking for Jesus. After such recent, traumatic events, they retreated back into the comfort of routine and familiarity, returning to be fishers not of men, but of fish. It’s surprising that they don’t immediately recognize their beloved teacher and friend. Maybe it was the dim morning light or just that Jesus was too far away to see properly. Mostly, I think the disciples just weren’t expecting to see him. But, they are paying attention. And, in that moment, as their nets fill with fish and morning breaks over the horizon, recognition dawns on them.
Paul wasn’t out looking for Jesus. He was on a mission of his own, following his own course on the hazardous journey to Damascus. Paul wasn’t expecting to encounter Jesus, he was out to persecute his remaining followers. Yet, he’s attentive enough in the moment to recognize something more than an ordinary fall during his travels.
I wasn’t out looking for Jesus. I just wanted to get through another long day at work. At first I didn’t recognize God in the voices of my new friends. The call rang out welcoming everyone – the young, the old, the smiling, the frowning, the delighted, the frustrated alike as they entered. As I was invited not just to be welcome, but to join in the call welcoming others, recognition emerged in me.
It’s because they chose to be truly present and attentive that they noticed Jesus. Peter and the disciples could’ve thanked the stranger and gone on home with their fish. Paul could’ve chalked his fall up to a bit of lightning and a spooked horse and just continued on his course.
It’s because I chose this week to be more present and attentive in my own daily schedule that I noticed Jesus. I could’ve completely missed hearing his radical welcome to myself and all who entered the fish market, hearing only the noisy racket of an unfamiliar culture.
But, ultimately, it’s not enough to just hear Jesus call to us. It’s up to us to respond.
Peter in his excitement is quite the image. Haphazardly throwing on his clothes and jumping into the lake as he excitedly makes his way to Jesus. The rest of the men follow in the boat, dragging their enormous catch along behind.
Paul chooses to completely change the course of his life. Converting his faith and becoming an advocate and leader in the Way he intended to persecute others for following.
I chose to join my new friends in their call of radical welcome.
All because something extraordinary had happened. Something extraordinary is happening. Right in the middle of ordinary, routine life. Jesus lived. Jesus lives. The world and ourselves are flooded with Love. We need only to be present and attentive.
How will you choose to respond?