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Third Sunday of Easter, April 14, 2013

In the story of “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower seller with a thick Cockney accent, has been turned into a lady by the speech and deportment lessons of Professor Henry Higgins. The big test of her transformation is a ball. She is a great success, invited to dance by many men and even declared a princess by one of them. When Eliza, Henry and Henry’s associate Colonel Pickering return home, Eliza expects to get some of the credit for her performance. But Higgins and Pickering congratulate one another and do not say one thing to her. Eliza is furious, and she leaves the house with her suitor. She asks him to take her back to her old neighborhood, where she believes she will be welcomed and loved and honored for her success. But nobody recognizes her. She is just another well bred lady to sell flowers to. A disappointed Eliza turns to her beau and asks him to take her away from the area, telling him that there is nothing there for her anymore. She has changed too much.

Peter and the other disciples are overwhelmed. They have been through the excitement of Palm Sunday, the horrors of Good Friday and the miracle of the resurrection. They have seen the risen Lord, and he has sent them to testify and to do his work. These events are too much for anyone to bear, and they do not know what to do next. So Peter decides to do something familiar, something that he knows he can do well, something that will give him space apart from these tumultuous events. He decides to go fishing. He is returning to his old occupation. So Peter and several of the disciples head out to sea. But they catch nothing. There is nothing more for them in fishing. They cannot return to their old lives. They have been changed too much by their lives as Jesus’ disciples to ever go back again.

As they return to shore at daybreak, they see a figure standing on the beach, who says, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They say no, and the person tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they will catch some fish. They obey, without knowing it is Jesus, and they pull in a huge catch. It is amazing that they obey one whom they think is just some person on the beach. I know that I am not big on obeying strangers. I have a friend and a brother who are really good on the computer. When Google changed its format, and I got so frustrated that I could not get a document out of the ether, I called my brother. I let him have remote control of my computer, and he tried things until we found it. When I got a web cam so I could Skype with Kristy and Evan, my friend was determined to install the drivers for the software and after much trial and error she managed to do so. I let these people on my computer because I trusted them. I won’t just let anyone play around on it.

But the process works differently for the disciples. Maybe they were willing to try anything to get fish, even advice from a stranger. But when they catch that huge amount of fish, Jesus is revealed to the beloved disciple, who tells Peter that the miracle worker is the Lord. Peter, typically impetuous, rushes to put on some clothes, jumps out of the boat and hurries to meet Jesus. The beloved disciple is content to wait with the others until the boat comes ashore. In a reversal of the way things usually go, obedience has revealed Jesus to them.

Jesus has fixed breakfast for the disciples. He has fish and bread cooking over charcoal and invites them to bring some of the fish they have caught through God’s grace. So Peter hauls the net ashore, and they bring some of their catch. Jesus is guiding and nourishing the disciples by serving them. But there is more going on here than a meal of fish and bread. Jesus is beginning to build the Christian community he had promised in his farewell discourses. The word used for Peter hauling the fish in is the same word used for draw – No one comes to me unless drawn by the Father and when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. The fish are fish, but they also represent the new followers of Jesus who will believe through the disciples’ testimony. The disciples will bear witness through the miracle of God’s grace, just as they caught the fish. Jesus will continue to nourish and guide the disciples in their efforts. His nourishment will be abundant, and the gifts the disciples receive from him will spill over into bold proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

After breakfast, Jesus has a conversation with Peter. He asks Peter three times if he loves him, and Peter says yes. The three times asking is significant because Peter denied Jesus three times. Now Peter is being accepted back into the fold in a concrete way so he can be a leader of the disciples and do the work he has been given to do. Three times eter tells Jesus he loves him and three times Jesus tells him to feed his sheep or tend his lambs. Jesus is emphasizing what this re-commissioned disciple is supposed to do. Repetition is often necessary to make sure we understand what we are being told. Evan was a notorious forgetter of things when he was in school, and there were many mornings when I said, “Remember your lunch, remember your lunch, remember your lunch” until I saw him walk out the door with it.

In the Easter event and last week’s drama of the disciples’ and Thomas’ recognition of the Lord, the stories are focused on the disciples’ individual knowledge that Jesus has been resurrected. This story has a community focus. With Jesus’ resurrection, life is forever changed for the world at large, for the whole community that Jesus loved and prayed for before he died. When we become disciples of Jesus, we can no longer go back to our former lives. We can try and sometimes we succeed for a moment, but it is in the midst of our ordinary lives that Jesus comes, just as he came when the disciples were out fishing. He comes to bring light into our darkness, as he appears at daybreak; he comes to bring strength and nourishment to our bodies and souls to help us tell our stories of relationship with God to the world. Jesus comes to commission and re-commission us for the risky work he asks us to undertake. He comes to let us know what discipleship is about.

Discipleship is about the beloved disciple and Peter. It is about taking time to be with Jesus, to rest our head on his breast and be close to his heart to hear him speaking to us, and it is about action,  our activities of service on behalf of God in our day-to-day lives. We all are called to be combinations of Peter and the beloved disciple because contemplation and action are both needed to do the work God has called us to do (Joseph A. Bessler).

Discipleship is about success and failure. We all fail in our task from time to time, and we need to acknowledge that truth. We also need to know that Jesus does not ever give up on us, just as he never gave up on Peter. We are commissioned, forgiven and re-commissioned to serve others. (David Lose)

Discipleship is about service. We are to take the gifts we have been given and use them in service to others. The way we see Jesus is to love one another as he loves us.

And discipleship is about bringing our whole selves to God. Jesus graciously invited the disciples to bring some of their catch, some of their efforts, to the breakfast table, knowing that it was one way for them to signify their commitment to him and to their commission.

We are all disciples of Jesus, called, as Peter and the others were, to follow Jesus. Sometimes the road is difficult, but we can trust Jesus to help us through. God loves us and desires our love in return through loving others. Let us look for opportunities wherever we are to recognize the risen Jesus in our lives and to serve others as he serves us.


  - Rev. Ann Barker


Works Cited:
Joseph A. Bessler, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 422
David Lose, “Commissioned Yet Again”, Blog Post 4/7/13