Lesson 17: Stranger

Jesus appears to the disciples as they fishMatthew and Mark report that the message at the empty tomb sends the disciples back to Galilee where Jesus will meet them. Luke’s version tells them to remain in Jerusalem. At first, John seems to support Luke, seemingly ending his gospel with chapter 20. But then he continues with a Galilean appearance that offers all sorts of interesting challenges (John 21: 1-14).

Notice how much it resembles the Road to Emmaus appearance (Luke 24: 13-35)? A stranger appears. He opens up new understandings, including deeper insights about the events they shared with Jesus during his lifetime. He teaches better ways to live. He shares a meal. He calls them to follow him.

We usually associate religion with the familiar and lament any changes to the way Christianity is practiced. We yearn for the “good old days” whenever new liturgies, teachings, or ethics are advanced. This lesson reminds us that faith has never involved going backwards. The apostles cannot go back to fishing, their former way of life.

A stranger appears on the shore and helps them relive what they have experienced with their executed friend. They are told once more where to find fish. They are fed once again with food they could not provide for themselves. You can almost hear the murmurs, “Who is this guy?”

And then joy, as they recognize it is Jesus still among them. And once more they realize they are called to a better life as they share the relationship they have found with Jesus and each other.

The story makes clear “following Jesus” is not a quaint, comfortable matter. Jesus takes a walk with Peter, asking three times if he really loves him (John 22: 15-19). This seems a way to show he forgives the apostle’s denying his friendship three times. But again this is not an “And they lived happily ever after” moment. John reminds us Peter is martyred for following our Christ.

The Greek verbs show the depth of the commitment involved in following the Resurrected Lord. The Greek word used for “love” in the first two questions refers to a love that brings mutual benefits, a kind of brotherly love. The Greek verb in the third goes quite a bit further, using a word that conveys “unconditional love.” The New Testament uses this last when speaking of God’s love. We are expected to love as God loves, returning good for evil. Unconditional love could mean literally “taking up our crosses and following Jesus.”

All this follows the themes John introduced in his gospel. Jesus is the incarnation of the Living God who comes so we can live out the fullness of our humanity, live as the Image of God in which we were created. Resurrection like all his teachings transforms us, so we can become what we were meant to be.

John’s conclusion reminds me of a remark uttered by one of our young adults, who happens to be a Jew. She said, her people have a saying, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” I think it conveys the world in which we find ourselves a well as the ordinary and extraordinary in the Christian life available to us.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Derek says:

    I think in most aspects of life people like the comfortable, lament change, and yearn for the “good old days” to varying degrees. But I think new teachings and ethics present a particular issue in the area of faith.

    There is a certain confidence, power, and agency that comes from thinking that your Church has had it right for hundreds if not thousands of years, that you have it right now, and if you share your testimony with your neighbor or child and take them to your Church than they’ll have it right too.

    When your understanding is that you have had it wrong, than who are you to testify or share your thinking with anyone? If your Church has had it wrong for hundreds if not thousands of years than why should you listen to it much less bring someone else?

    While I think one can have a personal relationship with Christ despite ongoing change and confusion, it does make it more complicated, and creates a tongue tying stumbling block to evangelism and fellowship that at least I haven’t been able to really sort out.

  2. Rita says:

    Today’s lesson touched me most because my Church (as you know well) is currently going through the struggle between those forces for 21st century change and the strong drag of many in the hierarchy who see change almost as an evil. It causes American Sisters a great deal of pain, but they aren’t the only ones. Change is not always an evil, as we all know, but when it comes to religious tradition, we occasionally equate change in the tradition as rewriting (instead of re-visioning) Scripture.

    My weekend at Kirkridge last fall with Michael Morwood pushed me into a lot of new thinking about Jesus and the Church, both of which I love. There has to be room in all churches for new thinking. I vividly remember when I was a young novice and newly professed Sister in my former community going through the process asked of us by Vatican II: look at all your customs and Holy Rules and ask if they have roots in Scripture and are not perhaps merely “the way we have always done it without much reflection.”

    So much changed–habits were modified, our ability to interact with the laity, the kinds of ministry we participated in, and a host of other changes. Small things and large fell by the wayside, but to say it wasn’t often painful for Sisters would be naive. There was anger, feelings of having “lost” our mission and way–but after years most of us know that the process was necessary. I offer that the Church as a whole needs that same reflection-but it can’t just be the bishops doing the reflection. All Sisters were involved because the results would affect all. Would that the Pope next to be beatified (aarrgghh) had listened to the commission regarding birth control. He decided to operate on fear that the hierarchy voiced: “This will shake the faith of the faithful in other church disciplines.” Well, yes, they were right–but the real result is that thousands of Catholics simply followed their consciences (if they didn’t leave the Church) and practiced it. And the end result: they gave other Vatican decrees less authority.

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