The text for this Sunday is the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in John 21: Jesus’ breakfast by the sea with his disciples. Perhaps many of you are familiar with this story. The Disciples are hard at it the whole night. Catch nothing. And Jesus (the carpenter, beat it all) yells some advice from the shore to these experienced fisher folk: drop your nets onto the “right” side of the boat.
Commentators I’ve read on this text recently say we ought to note the humor here. Duh, indeed. Who are you to tell us where to put down, Jesus? Not only have we been at it all night – we’ve been at it our whole lives. We know where to go, where the shoals of fish tend to school, when the best times to nab them are. Jesus – you’re a good preacher, but you ain’t no fisherman.
OK, we’ll try.
And then there’s Peter – the Saint Bernard among the group. Somehow, he’s fishing naked. Hmm. Puts on some scivvies, and dives in to swim toward the strange guy who appeared in the mist, having a hunch the dude is Jesus. His friend, his Lord. Reminds me of that scene in Forrest Gump – you know the one I’m talking about. Where Forrest abandons the boat to greet Lieutenant Dan.
What fascinates me about this story is the prima facia meaning we get from the (humorous, I think) detail about Jesus fishing advice. Fish on the other side. And Viola! Fish galore. Fruitfulness! Abundance! After all that sweat and toil, one throw gets you all you need and more. What up with that?
And any fisherman will tell you, this is why we do it. One more cast; one more try, because we know the big one’s out there.
What does it mean? As with all good stories, the meaning of such a tale opens outward, into our heart, into our lives.
What I think of – especially this week, this spring – is how dang hard it is to make work…work. How hard I see people in our congregation working. How hard I find myself devoted to the grind of work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my work. But sometimes, it makes me think of that hard night the disciples spent in the boat, toiling, pulling up, setting out, sweating, hoping, cussing.
Note that they had gone back to their old life, after the whole adventure with Jesus is over. “I’m going fishing,” says Peter, and we might imagine that this is not just a statement about the immediate night’s activity. It’s a mission statement. He’s forgotten what happened, and is now trying to go back to the old way of living.
I guess I think about how, on the one hand, I’ve got my type-A, driven, entrepreneurial, I’ll-get-it-done-come-hell-or-highwater way of operating in the world; the grind-it-out mentality that understands: if it’s going to get done, I’ve got to do it. I am the master of my own destiny. If there are fish down there, darn it, I’m going to get them, if it takes me all night. I imagine that’s what the Disciples are thinking here. Yeah, the Jesus thing was cool, but really; if we’re going to make a living, we’ve got to get down to it, apply some elbow grease.
And on the other hand, I think about times in my life when the good things, no, the best things – came completely from left field. Without my having to do a thing. Didn’t have to do with my skill, or goodness, or savvy. They came by fishing on the other side of the boat. Easily. Sometimes, it was a slight adjustment in mentality, or perspective, that was all it took. Sometimes, it was just a marvelous “catch” that came when I least expected. And it then reminded me of who’s in charge of my life. And what a feeble instrument is my own will to power; how foolish my desire to control things, customize life according to my own will.
What does “fishing on the other side” mean to you? What does it mean that these folks just…did what Jesus said, even though it seemed crazy at the time? Have you had experiences where “fishing on the other side” helped you understand the meaning of grace? Put all the work and toil and sweat in perspective?
Finally – this Sunday is Earth Day Communion. It’s my contention that one of our very modern modes of being in the world – let’s call it the “extractive consciousness” – is that which is killing our mother. Namely, the earth. The idea that we have to wrest “value” and “profit” from the Goodness of creation that is simply free is really a spiritual malady that is killing our very means of life. Another question we might ponder is: if we have this consciousness of grace (what we get from fishing on the other side), how will that enable us to live as a friend to Mother Earth? How is our killing of the creation really a spiritual disease, a failure to know the abundance with which God has provided us? How is “fishing on the other side” about living in harmony with creation?
Love to hear from you! And see you on Sunday.
Hoping for Jesus advice, I am,