Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Real Fish Story

There are a number of fishing stories in the Bible, but none as detailed as the one in John 21:1-19, the gospel lesson appointed for the 3rd Sunday of Easter in the Year of Luke.  What makes this story particularly interesting are several hints that this story has some parallels to the events in Chapter 6. There as well, we encounter Jesus and the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, and there also we have a tale of abundance.  Could it be that when the writer tells us that "Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish," he is bringing us back to the earlier time when, amidst a crowd of thousands he "took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted"?

(The following questions enter us into a discussion of some of the issues of interest to a law/gospel preacher.  For a more complete understanding of this genre of preaching, please see my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from amazon.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus is appearing and bringing with him abundance - abundance of food, peace, and forgiveness.  This is a gospel function.  The Law is also present, as Jesus points out to the disciples, "Children, you have no fish, have you?"  Here is the truth-telling that we need, where we are forced to recognize our need for the abundance that Jesus brings.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Since Simon Peter plays such a central role in this story it is probable that we will be drawn to identify with him. The other disciples, even "the one whom Jesus loved" are in the background most of the time and difficult to identify with.  Jesus is not the person we should be identifying with, as a rule.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  A very clear call to obedience is heard in the words to Simon Peter.  Three times Jesus tells him to take care of his sheep, and his last words to Simon are "follow me."  These are all clear calls to obedience - the commands we are given in response to God's work amongst us.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  The opening scene is one which suggests the place we are apart from the abundance of God.  Some couplets which arise from this are:  discouraged/encouraged; lacking/filled; hungry/fed; catching nothing/nets full.  Then from Peter's encounter we see couplets like:  guilty/forgiven; denier/confessor.

5.  Exegetical work:  The hints we have here linking this account to the story of the feeding of the five thousand in chapter 6 give us reason to search out other stories in John's gospel of abundance surrounding Jesus.  Those stories are not hard to find:  Chapter 2 - the abundance of wine at the wedding in Cana; Chapter 4 - the living water given to the woman at the well; Chapter 6 - the living bread come down from heaven; Chapter 8 - Jesus, the light of the world, Chapter 10 - "I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly"; Chapter 11 - "I am the resurrection and the life";  Chapter 15 - "I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever abides in me and I in them, bears much fruit."  All these are stories of abundance linked to Jesus.  In this story we also have the abundance of forgiveness granted to Simon Peter, who only days before had denied Jesus three times.  It is no surprise that Jesus' questions and commands also come in threes.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Archived under Year C Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Easter you will find Steven Albertin's insightful analysis of this story.  He makes great use of one detail that John shares: the presence of a charcoal fire.  What could this connect with?  The charcoal fire in 18:18, of course, where Simon Peter is warming himself and before which he denies Jesus.  So the two fires become places of sin and grace.  For a complete look at this analysis, visit crossings.org/text study.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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