28 March 2008

Do you wanna be a fish?

Octave of Easter (F): Acts 4.1-12 and John 21.1-14
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

For us, the Lord is far and near, close by and distant, personal and abstract. In fact, there may seem to be at times two gods for us to adore: the god of intimate relationship and the god of infinite distance. Haven’t we heard that God is both “with us” and “above us”? Both immanent (“among us”) and transcendent (“beyond us”)? Sometimes these two gods are called the God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the God of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas. Whatever we might think of this distinction, this difference, we have to admit that daily we experience God as with us and away from us; in varying degrees of intensity, right here, right now AND out there, perhaps waiting, perhaps not; gone away or hanging around close by, disinterested or fiercely loving. Jesus’ encounter with the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, especially the anxiety, the trepidation of the disciples with Jesus’ presence among them, this encounter shows up for us our own sometimes deeply ambivalent fear and trembling with God’s work in our life.

At the very core of our being-here, we desire intimacy with God; our imperfection as creatures yearns for His perfection as our Creator. That yearning, that sometimes near painful desire to be with God throws up for our choosing a radical choice: (very simply put) I either embrace my lack of perfection and run after the perfection God offers through Christ; or in my folly, I make my lack of perfection a god and worship it with my whole being, pushing God further and further away, adding to the distance btw us, divinizing my desire, my lacks, filling up all my God-shaped with misshapened deities. For most of us, we walk the fine, razor-thin line somewhere btw these two forms of surrender and spend our time praying (desperately praying!) for help in choosing.

Look at the disciples, squatting near the fire while Jesus serves them fish and bread. John reports: “. . .none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they realized it was the Lord.” What’s the problem here? Why the anxiety? John has already told us that once Jesus asks—“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”—the disciples recognize him. Having obeyed the Lord’s command to stay together as his family in faith, the disciples are “sighted to see” him; that is, they are properly illuminated to see, gifted to recognize the Lord after his resurrection, but notice that they still need a prompt to understand fully.

The beloved disciple shouts, “It is the Lord.” Simon Peter jumps into the sea and wades ashore. The other disciples follow soon enough. But none will ask him who he is, none will dare to request a confirmation of what they know to be true. Why? It could be fear of offending their Lord with such an obviously doubting question. It could be that they simply want to respect his presence without pestering him with student questions. It could be that they are hoping that they are wrong. Likely, it is b/c they understand—if only in the head—what this appearance of the Lord means for them. Do you think that they are squatting there eating bread and fish and remembering back over the last three years all the promises of their Master? The promise of political and religious persecution? The promise of familial strife? Brotherly conflict? The truly frightening promise that they too—if they follow him on his Way—that they too will die horribly with a prayer to the Father on their lips? Of course, of course. And so they squat there, knowing and remembering and sweating through all those promises of violence and inevitable glory. And we, like them, sit and stand here, btw our choices of radical surrender, and pray for courage, stout hearts: give up to God all that is His and be wildly transformed, or cling to our imperfect creatureliness and worship all the little gods of deficiency?

Here’s what we are to do: go fishing! Wade into the deep! Shout: he is the Lord! Row ashore with our nets bulging and eat and drink with the Lord! He is risen. . .he is dead, buried, risen again, and when he comes for us, he will count us among his wondrous fishes!

Pic credit: Penny Prior

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