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It’s Just That Simple
John 21:1-14  April 18, 2021

Isn’t it curious that Jesus chose to appear to Peter and the six other disciples while they were fishing?

The scripture doesn’t specifically tell us why he chose this setting, and, at first glance, this story seems out of step with the rest of John’s gospel.

In John’s gospel prior to the resurrection, we heard Jesus say such memorable things as¸ I am the way the truth and the life; I am the bread of life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the light of the world.

Now the best he can muster is, “Hey, guys.  How about some breakfast?”

In John’s gospel prior to the Resurrection, we saw him walk on water and feed the 5,000 beginning with just two fish … now after his Resurrection, he’s sitting in the sand and helping a half dozen fishermen dredge up a few dozen fish.

Why isn’t he appearing to Pilate and Herod in his post-Resurrection glory to set the record straight?

Why isn’t he in Rome ordering Caesar to withdraw his troops?

Why is he on a small stretch of Galilean beach rather than healing the blind, freeing the prisoners, and making some crooked ways straight?

Why are Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances so less dramatic than in the time before his crucifixion?

No wonder that for ages people have felt a bit let down by this story in the closing chapter of John, leading some to look for cosmic messages hidden within it.

For example, what might be the hidden meaning behind 153 fishes?

Why 153, not 93 or 214?

St. Augustine is among those who thought he’d solved the mystery by noting that there are ten Commandments and seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

10+7=17.

And then if you add the integers from 1 to 17 (1+2+3+4 …) you arrive at precisely 153.

So, there you have it.

“153 fishes” must be biblical proof that Jesus is the fulfillment of both the Law and the Gospel!

And there are other theories as well – but to follow some of them you’ll need to bring your calculator.

But this kind of “Da Vinci Code” speculation misses the point entirely.

What if we take the gospel at face value?

Then we find a group of discouraged fishermen-turned-disciples who had just been through a traumatic time of great expectations and equally great disappointments.

While waiting for the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised, hours had turned into days and days into weeks.

Now the disciples are unsure of what to believe or what to do next, and so they return home to do what they know best: fishing in the Sea of Galilee.

They’d been casting their nets off the same side of the boat they always had but it was not going well.

They had not known how to go forward with their mission, and now confusions set in as they realize that they can’t go back to old ways either.

It’s then that they hear a familiar voice telling them to cast the net from the other side and they bring in a catch so big that any fisherman would assume that it would tear their nets.

That’s why the text mentions a specific number – to assure the reader that it was a really big catch.

Now consider that the real significance of this passage is just its ordinariness – because isn’t that where we need our Savior?

We need a Savior who accompanies us to ordinary, everyday places, who’s with us in ordinary circumstances, and who guides and assures us through ordinary times.

We need Jesus at our job when work has become overwhelming or our boss overbearing.

We need Jesus at the kitchen table when our partner has been cruel or unforgiving.

We need Jesus in the kitchen “amid the pots and pans”, as Teresa of Avila put it.

In John 21, that’s exactly where the post-Resurrection Jesus shows up – right where he needs to be.

And that’s where Jesus needs you, too: in the ordinary places of your world, doing ordinary things with great love.

Al Siedlecki is a long-time eighth-grade science teacher at Medford Memorial Middle School.

He’s always seen his position as a calling, not just a job.

He was shocked when he got a call while teaching a science lab.

On the other end of the call was a neurosurgeon, Dr. Lee Buono.

Buono explained that he’d just finished treating a man who had a benign tumor in his throat that had grown to the point that it had progressively squeezed off his ability to speak.

It was almost like someone was sewing his mouth closed.

By the time the patient saw Dr. Buono, he could get some words out, but they were almost unintelligible.

During one appointment, his wife tried to lighten the situation by getting Dr. Buono to talk about himself.

She asked what had inspired him to become a neurosurgeon, and he said that it began in an eighth-grade science class when they were dissecting frogs and Mr. Siedlecki took special interest in him and told him that he did the dissection so well that he could become a brain surgeon.

And he continued to encourage Lee.

After they completed the throat surgery and the patient was able to talk again, he hugged Dr. Buono and said, “You make sure you call that teacher. You make sure you thank him.”

“So”, he said, “that’s what I’m doing.”

Ordinary places … that’s where God has always met us.

He met Moses while he was tending sheep.

He met Jacob while he was sleeping on a trail with only a rock for a headrest.

Jesus met the Samaritan woman to say that he is the living water at the community well.

Ordinary places are where you can share Jesus’ comfort with others.

Laura Lane was on her regular Friday commute to work on the New York subway when it went dark and stopped deep in a tunnel where it remained for two hours.

Laura was anxious about being late to work and scared of being stuck in the dark subway full of strangers.

That’s when she met Paquita Williams, the conductor of the train.

Paquita had learned about reaching out to help frightened strangers after she had been in a bad place and reached out for help and got a cold shoulder.

She pledged to herself that she’d never do that to someone else.

Paquita says, “I walked from the front to the back of the train because I knew somebody would be nervous.

“And several alarmed people nervously said, ‘It’s Friday the 13th’. And I said, ‘Well, we’re alive. Somebody didn’t wake up on Friday the 13th and would have loved to have been on this train. So, it’s a good day for us.’”

Laura reflects on the experience and says, “Paquita, you really made everybody on that train connect. We all started talking with each other like human beings.

“As we left the train, somebody was like, ‘Let’s do this again tomorrow morning. Same place, same time.’ What could have started out as a bad day turned into a good day because of you.”

Jesus will use you in ordinary places.

Jesus will meet you in ordinary places but sometimes call you to look beyond the expected ways in order to see his love for everyone.

When Ken Felts was 90-years-old and COVID-quarantined with his daughter, Rebecca, he finally told her about the great love of his life that he lost more than 60-years earlier and had grieved ever since.

Growing up in Kansas as the son of a railroad worker, Ken could always be sure of two things: he’d never spend much time in any one town before his father had to move on in search of work, and they’d always attend church on Sundays.

It was a lonely childhood.

But in the late 1950s, Ken moved to California and found the love of his life, a coworker named Philip.

Both in their 20s, Ken and Philip were inseparable during the two years they spent together.

Ken told his daughter that he knew from the moment he met Philip that he was the perfect person for him.

He joked, “Of course, I guess that’s what everyone thinks of their first love. We just kind of blended into each other.”

But one Sunday, they went to Philip’s church because he sang in the choir.

Ken said he sat in the pews and realized that he was sitting in a place that condemned their behavior, and in that moment, he felt he had to make a decision and the weight of his religious background became too much for him to bear

He resigned his job and left California — and Philip — to return to Kansas and lead a straight life.

And for years afterwards he knew he’d made the wrong decision.

Ken explained to Rebecca, “The first thing I did after I got the divorce from your mother was to go through all the phone books trying to find Philip.  But I was unable to find him.”

Rebecca recalled when she was in high school finding her father crying in the garden.

She’d asked why and he just said, “Oh, just stuff from the past that doesn’t matter anymore.”

But now he confessed that he was crying because he’d left Philip.

Eventually he located Philip, but it was too late as he had died a couple of years earlier.

Rebecca asked if he had found out that Philip was alive what he would have said.

Ken said, “I would have apologized to him for the decision I made.”

Rebecca replied, “My guess would be that he forgave you long ago, and I just wish you could forgive yourself.”

Jesus lit a little campfire and cooked some ordinary fish for his confused and discouraged disciples.

It was a simple act of companionship and love.

He didn’t go to the Temple with its priests parading around in their finery, with all its regulations about how to earn God’s favor, and all its rules about who is acceptable and who’s not.

Later, John would write that God is love.

It really is just that simple.

This encounter on the ordinary beach with the sweaty disciples concludes with Jesus telling Peter that if he loves him then to go feed his sheep.

Love ordinary people wherever you meet them.

Again, it’s just that simple.

 

(Today’s three stories all came from StoryCorps)