This week’s Gospel lesson from St. John is one of my favorite passages from the whole Bible, because it’s too strange not to be true. No one in his right mind would include this story if it didn’t happen. John is famous for being the writer who gives us what has come to be known as the “Cosmic Christ,” a Jesus who is obviously divine, He through whom all things were made.
“…look at what he gives us (at the end of his Gospel): Jesus tending a campfire on a beach! Look, Jesus didn’t have to shake up the whole world and all its powers and authorities within the first 12-18 hours of his returning to life, but all these weeks later the last place I’d expect to find the resurrected Lord of lords and King of kings hanging around is an isolated stretch of beach and the last thing I’d expect to find him doing in that remote place is frying fish and cooking biscuits. Is this what life in this world looks like after Easter?! Is this how the resurrected Son of God behaves across 40 days while physically still on this earth?”1
Yes. And that’s awesome. “Catch anything,” He says, and they haven’t, so they were probably a little annoyed with the question, not knowing right off the bat that it was Jesus. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some,” He said, and they must have thought “You cast the net on the other side of the boat.” But, for whatever reason, they did, and they came up with the oddly specific number of 153 fish, enough to break the nets and sink the boat. It was then that they figured out who the guy was on the beach. “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus said, stoking the fire He had built. This was the third instance of Jesus visiting His disciples after the Resurrection, and the story goes on a bit after our reading cuts off. Jesus engages Peter in a private discussion after breakfast, and knowing that Peter is still a little sensitive about denying even knowing Jesus a few weeks before, Jesus turns the guilt screw just a tad. “Do you love me,” Jesus asks Peter three times, Peter getting more and more testy in answering yes. “Then feed my sheep,” Jesus told him, reminding Peter that he had work to do in shepherding the Church. Jesus warns Peter and John that life will not always go according to their best laid plans, and then presumably just heads out to get a cup of coffee or something.
People have had issues with this passage for centuries, and they still do. They want to find meaning, hidden meaning, in the story; they try to decode the writings of John. But all of this comes from our inability to accept something simple as what it is. Doan has always teased me for my Jersey sayings, I say “It is what it is” more often than I should. But in this case, this story is what it is: Jesus with His disciples, having breakfast mixed with a little encouragement, just checking in. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus showed up, but it was significant enough for John to write it down so that all people everywhere for all time will know about that breakfast.
But isn’t this how it always works with Jesus? How often do we find the Jesus waits for us to be ready for Him? Or if He wants to communicate something to us, that He can only tell us when we are at our best? Or is it the other way around, that Jesus shows up when we least expect Him, when we are plodding along, in the ordinary or mundane?
There are any number of things Jesus could have been doing on that morning we just heard about. He could have been flying around the world like Superman or haunting Pontius Pilate or taking over Rome, but instead He was waiting for his disciples on the beach, performing gentle miracles, comforting and prodding His disciples, taking the ordinary and mundane and turning it toward God. This is the Lord we know and love, who knows and loves us, who shows us that there is no such thing as an ordinary day when you’re His disciple.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week