The lectionary gospel lesson for this coming Sunday (John 21:1-19) is rich in meaning, with many possible trajectories for preaching. One of the questions that arises in me as I read this text is why the disciples were in Galilee. After all, the crucifixion, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus all happened around Jerusalem. Yet, Peter and his crew were up north, in Galilee. As this final chapter in John’s gospel begins, these disciples are not shown as modeling what it means to be a disciple, they are merely fishing. As an aside, it is worth noting that Jesus does not chastise them about their location or their activity.
So why were they in Galilee? Perhaps they hadn’t seen the resurrected Christ for a while and they went to Galilee in hopes that they would encounter Jesus there. After all, this was the place where the majority of Jesus’ ministry took place. It could have been that the disciples were grateful for their experience of the risen Savior, but they still hadn’t fully comprehended the power of the resurrection and the call of Jesus on their lives. So they went back to what they considered “normal” and got on with life as usual.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts at fishing, their work yielded nothing. I’m sure Peter and the others used all their best plans and tactics, but they caught no fish. Then Jesus shows up. He comes to them as a stranger at first. He comes to them at a low point in their work. He comes to them in their need. He also offers guidance, “Throw your nets over the right side of the boat, and you will find some [fish].” After the disciples follow Jesus’ instructions, they have an amazing catch of fish – so much so that they were not able to lift the fish-filled net out of the water and bring them into the boat. Instead, they had to row their boat to the shore and pull the great catch onto dry land.
I think it is interesting that Jesus does not tell them to quit fishing and do something different. He doesn’t rebuke them for moving on with their life. If I may move to conjecture here, I think there is a sense in which the author is saying that there is nothing wrong with the “ordinary” world, “ordinary” jobs, or an “ordinary” life. However, it is implied that when we allow the risen Christ to guide us in our work we can move from a seemingly empty life to a full life or from a seemingly purposeless occupation to a job filled with meaning.
The stranger, named Jesus, guides the Disciples: “Cast your net on the right side of the boat.” That’s what a guide does – points us in the right direction, gets us to the perfect spot, tells us the right lure or bait to use. In a similar way, Jesus wants to be our guide. He equips us for the tasks he gives us. He untangles our lives so that we can be free. He does this in so many ways. He speaks to us in that still small voice in our minds our in or souls. He speaks to us when we read scripture. He speaks to us in worship services or small groups. He calls to us in the voice of others.
I believe this story has something to say to us, as church leaders. As we move into the future and many pandemic mitigation measures are changed, we can be tempted to simply go back to the old ways of being and doing church. Certainly, we have experienced God’s sustaining grace and the Spirit’s empowerment during the worst of the pandemic. Now that things seem to be getting back to “normal,” we might be tempted to return to our pre-pandemic ways. I have no doubt that both clergy and laity will put forth their best efforts. We all will labor well for the sake of God’s kingdom. Yet, we may find that our efforts come up empty (or at least not as effective as in the past.)
As I mentioned in the sub-district clergy meetings, there is no going back to the pre-COVID church. Trying to will only lead to disappointment and despair. The attempt to reconstruct congregational life to a past “business as usual” norm is impossible. However, to say that the old is gone doesn’t mean hard ending. We live in a post-resurrection world and with an Easter faith. Yes, the old is gone, but the new has come and is coming. While there may not be bounty in a return to previous ways of mission and ministry, with God’s guidance we may find that different ways of practice may lead to an abundant flourishing of the Kingdom.
May Jesus show up for you and guide you into meaning, fulfillment and a joyous catch.
If you would like to view past editions of Moments with Mike, follow this link: https://corridordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/