Some scholars think the Gospel of John may have originally ended at ch 20 with the story of Jesus appearing to Thomas. The last few lines of John 20 seem to be a good way to wrap up the gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these ARE written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The story of Thomas could be a powerful way to end the Gospel and inspire us to tell our own stories of Jesus. Except that it leaves out breakfast, and while some of you are not breakfast eaters, I love a good breakfast.
And I love these post-resurrection stories about sharing a meal, especially this story in John 21 & the story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24. Both feature a small gathering of disciples soon after the resurrection. They both end with Jesus sharing a meal with the disciples. The disciples fail to recognize Jesus until his actions (involving food) reveal his identity. In the gospel of Luke, it is in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the unnamed disciple’s eyes are opened to the risen Christ. In the gospel of John, after a fruitless night of fishing, “That disciple whom Jesus loved” recognizes the risen Christ ONLY after Jesus tells the disciples to cast their net on the right side. 153 fish jump right into the net. When they come ashore, Jesus offers the invitation, “Come, and have breakfast.”
There is something so incarnational, so human about sharing food, and in these two post-resurrection stories, in the sharing of a meal, there is an experience of the risen Christ. The act of eating together in 1st century Judaism was a symbol of relationship, and an act of intimacy. Clean and unclean didn’t share a meal together or drink from the common cup. It is good to remember that one of the complaints against Jesus when he was arrested by the religious authorities was that he “ate with sinners & tax collectors.” This weekend, a popular progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans died tragically at the age of 37 after being placed in a medically induced coma. She wrote a few years ago:
“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
Who you were supposed to share a meal wasn’t as important to Jesus, as building community. Clean & unclean, betrayers & deniers, rich & poor, were invited to share a meal because in the Kingdom of Heaven all are made whole by God’s never-failing healing love and grace and abundance.
There is something about abundance that is woven throughout the gospel of John. In chapter 2, we encounter Jesus at a wedding in Cana where he turns 150 gallons of water into a ridiculous amount of really fine wine. A few chapters later, Jesus blesses and shares 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish with a few people, about 5,000, with 12 abundant baskets left over. In John 10, one of my favorite verses spoken by Jesus: “I have come to give you life, and give it abundantly.” This resurrection appearance by the lakeshore reveals God’s abundance with a ridiculous amount of fish – 153 of them – just when the disciples were so discouraged from not catching a thing all night long AND from not knowing what to do next after Jesus appeared to them in the Upper Room. We, too, get confounded by life. When all hope is seemingly gone; when you wonder what to do next; when you choose to go back to old habits and things that you think you know how to do – like fishing; when you think there is no future; when your well has dried up; when you doubt that grace is real – this is what resurrection hope & encounter look like. A story of abundant provision. To experience resurrection beyond the empty tomb. To experience your “boat coming in” with the greatest haul of fish you can imagine. I remember my dad frequently using that idiom when I was a kid, “when our ship comes in”. It was his way of holding on to uncertain hope that one day things would be better.
Barbara Brown Taylor says it like this: “One moment it all looks hopeless to you and the next you see possibilities you never saw before. One moment your problems look too big to be budged and the next you discover handles on them you never knew were there before. One moment the net looks empty and the next it does not – you discover life where was there nothing but darkness and death before. ‘It is the Lord!’ That is what the beloved disciple said. How did he know? How do any of us know? By staying on the lookout, I suppose. By watching the shore, and the sky, and each other’s faces. By listening. By living in great expectation and refusing to believe that our nets will stay empty or our night will last forever. For those with ears to hear, there is a voice that can turn all our dead ends into new beginnings. ‘Come,’ says the voice, ‘and have breakfast.’”
I think Jesus shows up on our shore, unexpectedly, in the guise of other people, “the Body of Christ”, offering clear advice to try the other side, to try a new way of thinking, to release our way of doing things – and then invites us to share a meal once again.
And when Christ comes – wherever he chooses to reveal himself to us, he also comes with a call: “Do you love me? Feed my sheep. I want you to care for the ones for whom I care. Keep doing what I have been doing. As God has sent me, so I now send you.” In that moment on the beach, Resurrection is translated into abundance in unexpected places. Loving Jesus leads to feeding God’s sheep, both physical and spiritual hungers. The Risen One has work for us to do.
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. And Follow me.”
So, when we follow Jesus, we find places of abundance and then share than abundance with others.