Last week’s Gospel contained a message that hit home to me: Once you have encountered the risen Christ, you can’t go back to your old ways.
The Gospel reading (Jn 21: 1-19) takes place after the Resurrection and the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and then twice to the disciples behind locked doors in Jerusalem. The reading tells of Simon Peter and six others at the Sea of Tiberias. Peter announces he’s going fishing, and the others say they’ll go with him. They get into the boat, then spend the night trying and failing to catch something. At dawn they see a man standing on the shore, who asks if they’ve caught anything to eat. When they say they haven’t, Jesus – whom they don’t recognize – tells them to cast their net over the right side of the boat and they’ll find something. They cast the net and haul in so many fish that they can’t pull in the net. They get back to shore, and Jesus, whom they now recognize, invites them to have breakfast.
What struck me as I heard the Gospel proclaimed was that the disciples apparently were trying to return to their old ways. At least three of the disciples named in the story – Peter, James and John – were fishermen before being called by Jesus to follow him. Hearing the story this time, it occurred to me to wonder where they got the boat to go fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. Did James and John go to Zebedee and say, “Hey, Dad, we’re home because our Lord got crucified and even though we’ve seen him raised from the dead we’re now at loose ends, so we’ve come back. Mind if we borrow a boat and go out on the lake with our friends?”
No matter where they got the boat, they spent the night on the water. I wonder what they talked about. Would they have discussed having seen Jesus those two previous times, or would they have avoided the subject? Would they have wondered what the future held for them? Were they silent, wrapped in their own private thoughts? They had spent three years following a man they thought would be the savior of the world, only to see that same man branded a criminal and hung on a cross, the most humiliating death possible. They themselves had hidden away, fearful of a similar fate, and then twice Jesus came to them. There on the boat that night, did they think they had imagined seeing the resurrected Jesus in the locked room?
They spent hours in the boat trying to recapture their old livelihood. They failed. Then Jesus came, gave them instructions on how to succeed, fed them, and told them to follow him.
At the moment I feel like the disciples in the boat: Having completed a master’s degree in theology, I now have time to devote to things other than work and studying. I have a stack of books and magazines that have piled up over the past three years, but not all of it is as satisfying as it was before. I want to volunteer somewhere worthwhile, but I need the Lord to direct me where to cast my net.
I admit to hearing a siren call from my old leisure activities, because they were safe. Following Jesus is hazardous – the Gospel is very clear that it can lead to where you do not want to go. At the same time, this path glorifies God. I doubt I will be a martyr for the faith as were Peter, James, John, and the others on the boat that night on the Sea of Tiberias, but like all humankind I am called to be a coworker in the Lord’s vineyard. I am waiting to be assigned my task. I wonder what it will be.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at email@example.com.