The Third Sunday of Easter, 18 April 2010
Saint John 21:1-19
We are slowly moving from the focus on Peter (Gospel) to a new focus on Saul/Paul (First Reading). It is Luke’s intention to keep these two individuals clearly in mind, as we begin to associate them with the work and signs of Jesus. Both of these men will have visions that will directly affect their approach to not only the Easter Faith, but to the manner in which they characterize that faith to others. This morning we will hear about the first of these visions to Paul, and then on the Fifth Sunday of Easter we will hear about Peter’s vision. These visions will carry the church from a Judeo-centric perspective and mission to a more inclusive mission that involves the ministry to gentiles. There is another vision in today’s readings, and that is the vision of St. John the Divine, as he hears the song of the angels and elders in heaven.
Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." [The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."]
There are little details that we learn from Luke as he broadens our image not only of Saul/Paul, but of the early Church as well. The fact that he is heading to Damascus gives us a clear understanding of the Jewish Diaspora, during which Jews moved from Palestine to other parts of the Fertile Crescent, Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt, and the Italian Peninsula. We also learn that these early Christians were known as those who “follow the Way” (cf. Jesus’ saying: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”). Many scholars look at this section of Luke/Acts as a “resurrection appearance”, for Paul, like Jesus, is incapacitated for three days, after which he sees and understands: “He is the Son of God.” In some aspects this is the answer to the remark that Jesus makes to Thomas in last Sunday’s Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Paul’s vision is both – an evidence of the risen Lord, but as a vision, and belief that flows out of not a direct but rather an indirect experience of Jesus as the Living One. The opening of Saul, now Paul’s eyes, also becomes his call as a prophet, for there is the laying on of hands and an outpouring of the Spirit. Baptism followed.
Breaking open Acts
1. What motivated Saul’s “threats and murder”?
2. What do you understand about Paul’s blindness?
3. Why were Christians called “those who follow the Way”? What does that mean to you?
Psalm 30 Exaltabo te, Domine
I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
While I felt secure, I said, "I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."
Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper."
You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
This psalm might be put into the mouth of Lazarus, as a resurrected one. It mixes both a pleading to be saved from death, and a thanksgiving for being saved from death. Of interest is verse 10, in which the psalmist bargains for his life. The term “the Pit” is a translation of the Hebrew Sheol. Sheol was the place of the dead – neither heaven nor hell – that concept doesn’t really exist in the Hebrew Scriptures. This place bears some kinship with the Greek notion of Hades. None-the-less, the author bargains with God, noting that there is no profit in death – for the dead cannot praise God, or exhibit their faithfulness.
Breaking open Psalm 30
1. Why do you think this psalm was chosen for this Sunday? What are the thematic ties, if any, to the other readings?
2. How many verses plead, and how many verses give thanks?
3. Have you ever bargained with God? For what?
I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!"
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
"To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"
And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.
This hymn and the description that surrounds it follows the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, and is in the midst of a vision by the author of Revelation. In the vision there is a scroll, and the question – “Who is worthy to break open the seals, to read the message?” The answer is “the Lamb”, a symbol of the paschal Christ, the one offered up and raised again. The vision wants us to see as well the vast court of followers that accompany the lamb, the “thousands or thousands”, the living creatures, and the elders. Although popular opinion sees Revelation as a coded message about the future, full of ominous warnings and disaster, it is more likely a coded message intended for the Christians of Asian Minor concerning their choice of Jesus, rather than worshipping the Roman Emperor, which was their civic duty. The author guises the heavenly scene with all the panoply of the Imperial Court. For it was not Diocletian who was kyrios (Lord) or soter (Savior), but rather the Lamb – Jesus. This is the One, whom the multitudes praise and honor.
Breaking open Revelation:
1. Why is the image of a lamb used?
2. Who is seated on the throne?
3. Who might the elders be?
Saint John 21:1-19
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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
In the first reading and in the Gospel, the principal characters receive a call. Here it is Peter’s turn. The scene is one taken out of everyday life, especially Peter’s everyday life – for he was a fisherman. Jesus, in his usual fashion, turns that image into something different and new. There is also a symmetry about how John fashions this story, for Peter, who denied Jesus three times, in this Gospel is asked three times, “Do you love me.” The point of this gospel reading is not only a resurrection appearance to the disciples, but more a mission call to them and to the reader. John wants us to understand that if we love Jesus, we will then share the story (Feed my lambs/sheep). Jesus makes it clear what the requirements of following him mean, and then he utters the demand, “Follow me.” There is a secondary theme in the reading as well, and that is the meal that Christ prepares on the beach. It is similar in nature to one of the other resurrection stories that John cites, wherein Jesus eats. This reference seems to have a greater implication, see especially “he took the bread and gave it to them.” These are code words in John.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. Who are the lambs and sheep that are to be fed?
2. Why does the author mention Peter’s nakedness?
3. Again Jesus intervenes in their fishing procedure – and what is the result? Why does John include this?
4. What is the meaning behind “he took the bread and gave it to them.”?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.