John 21

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The resurrection is an extraordinary event unlike anything else in all of history. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He is the Risen Lord and the Son of God. Yet, although Jesus is such an extraordinary person, after he is resurrected he does some rather ordinary things. And these seem strangely out of place.

First of all, here are the disciples. They have known for over a week now about the extraordinary, reality shaking truth that Jesus is raised from the dead. God has conquered death! Jesus’ ministry did not end in failure! There is a mission now to participate in God’s unfolding will through Jesus Christ! They know all of this, and can you believe what they are doing? They’re going fishing. Well, they have to eat after all. It’s not wrong, but it is just so ordinary. Now here comes Jesus and he says a rather ordinary thing, “Say boys, caught any fish? No, well try casting your net on the right side.”

Then, Jesus is on the shore and he has a fire going. He has some bread and he is cooking fish. It is just so ordinary. Now, of all the things you expect the risen savior, the firstborn from the dead to say, one phrase you don’t expect from such an extraordinary individual who is at the center point of changing all of human history to say is, “Come have some breakfast.” What a stunningly ordinary statement.

It is all so very mundane. Other than the unusually large catch of fish, this is just an ordinary fishing trip to provide some breakfast for hungry people. And the risen Christ shows up. It is so ordinary – but of course there is a man who was dead and is now alive present. And the only fuss made over that is Peter, who puts his shirt back on and swims up to shore quickly to see Jesus.

But it is in the common reality of the mundane and ordinary that memories of Jesus’ ministry and the power of God revealed are called up. When Jesus shows up in the morning after a disappointing night of fishing and tells the men to fish on the other side, this is when they recognize Jesus. It recalls a time before the resurrection when the Teacher presumed to tell seasoned fishermen what to do – and another time when Peter also seemed a but uncomfortable in the presence of Christ. (Luke 5.)

It is in the ordinary that memories of Jesus’ ministry are evoked. The bread and fish Jesus is serving up for breakfast recall at least two occasions when Jesus gave thanks and served a few loaves of bread and fish as a meal for thousands. As Jesus takes the bread, breaks it and gives it to these hungry men they are surely remembering a meal of bread and wine weeks earlier.

And it is in this everyday, ordinary scene that at least Peter would probably like everyone, and especially Jesus, to forget some of the things he did that evening when they took the bread and wine. Does Jesus remember the arguing over who is charge? Does he remember Peter’s uneasiness (once again) over Jesus’ offer to wash his feet? Does he remember Peter’s brave loyalty and how he brandished the bread knives and pledged to fight to his last? Does he remember how that loyalty melted away like butter when Jesus was arrested and doomed to hang on a cross? Jesus told him what would happen, and it happened just like he said. Not once but three times he lied and disavowed his Teacher and King. Peter probably figured on having to sort all this out in his own heart, but now the man he did wrong – who died – is having breakfast with him.

So here are these hungry fishermen sitting around a fire early one morning, stuffing their mouths with fish and bread. (Thomas must be taking this in. Not only does he have scars, he’s also eating breakfast!) It’s not everyday that you have breakfast with a man you saw die and a man you saw buried. But this moment is so very ordinary. This is the third time the risen Jesus has appeared to them, but what do they say? There’s sort of an awkward silence. They don’t want to say something stupid like “Who are you?” They know who it is.

Now, once they finish up breakfast, it is Jesus who breaks through the tension hanging in the air. He addresses Peter not by his nickname, but by his full name: “Simon son of John. Do you love me more than all this?”

“Yes Lord, you know I love you.”

So Jesus says, “Take care of my lambs.”

Jesus cuts right through the tension. Do you love me more than anything else Simon? If so and if you can say it then I am entrusting to you the care of the people I died for. I am entrusting to you the care of the people I love. And just to emphasize this, Jesus asks the question again – if there’s any misunderstanding or doubt he’s clearing it away. The question is just slightly different this time: “Simon son of John, do you love me

Peter’s answer is the same, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus’ reply is slightly different, “Shepherd my sheep.” Jesus’ is investing leadership in Peter. It seems that all those things that Peter may have been worried about do not stand in the way Jesus’ forgiveness. He is must be forgiving Peter because he is entrusting something sacred to him. But now Jesus asks the question a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Now Peter must wonder: Is Jesus just trying to make a point or is he really trying to bring up something else. Three times? Surely he must remember the three times I betrayed him. He hasn’t forgotten – but his actions still appear to be forgiving. Doesn’t he believe me when I say I love him? Well of course he must, he knows everything. So even though he’s a bit wounded Peter replies, “Lord you know everything, you know that I love you.” And Jesus once again charges Peter to tend to his lambs.

It is a very ordinary scene, the morning breakfast. And yet this is the setting for forgiveness. Of all the things the risen Lord could have been doing he reconciles a broken relationship and restores the spirit of sinful man.

And nothing is forgotten. Jesus doesn’t say, “Look, the night you betrayed me – we’re just not going to talk about that anymore. Let bygones be bygones.” Peter and the others don’t try to bring it up only to hear Jesus say, “Hmm? What are you talking about?”

In fact, it is in remembering properly and remembering in Christ’s presence that forgiveness and love overcome sin. We see in this very ordinary scene what God’s forgiving grace and mercy are really like – especially in the wake of the resurrection. Forgiveness is not just a legal procedure or a change of status such as citizenship or club membership. Forgiveness and atonement take place in the often awkward and messy domain of relationships.

But don’t miss the meaning of this ... even though the risen presence of Jesus meets us in our very ordinary and very mundane world, it doesn’t mean that the resurrection is ordinary. But it does mean this: The resurrection doesn’t deny our humanity, it calls us to be the humanity that God always intended for us to be.

Don’t miss the meaning of this ... even though forgiveness rightly takes place in our very ordinary and very everyday relationships it doesn’t mean that forgiveness is ordinary. Forgiveness takes place in our relationship with God and with one another. Human lives stained and dented by mistakes and sins that we find it very difficult to forget. Forgiveness doesn’t erase bad memories. Christ’s forgiveness empowers us to forgive and be forgiven and thus to live new life. It gives us hope to go beyond the sins of the past and even if we cannot forget them, we will not be defined by them.

Surely Jesus and Peter had an understanding. Peter understood that Jesus hadn’t forgotten what had happened, but Peter also realizes that Jesus doesn’t Peter’s sin define their relationship. Jesus charges Peter to let love define the relationship.

Jesus also doesn’t want Peter to shape his future based on what he did wrong. Jesus even gives him a glimpse into his future and tells him that he will die a death that glorifies God, but even that isn’t what will define him. “Follow me!” says Jesus. Be like me, he says. That’s what defines you.

And Peter cannot help but point at John and maybe he’s a bit embarrassed by all the attention and wants to make this about someone else or maybe he wants to establish that he’s not the only sinner around the campfire and he asks Jesus, “So what about him?” Now here’s where the forgiveness of Christ really makes us human and teaches us who we are and how to live with each other. I am paraphrasing Jesus: “What business is that of your Peter? You just follow me, okay!”

God knows everything you have ever done. He knows all things, but all is forgiven. Do you love him more than the sin? Then let the risen Christ define you, not the sin you cannot forget. If you love him, then follow him.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 8 April 2007

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