Summary: There is always much to learn from the risen Christ. At the Sea of Galilee, the disciples learned that a small change can make a huge difference, and that we have a charge to keep.
Like many other professions, keeping up clergy credentials in the United Methodist Church requires a program of continuing education. Exactly what direction that continuing ed takes can vary according to the pastor’s needs or the churches needs, but the point is to make sure that the clergy are always “up-to-date” with the ministry needs of an ever-evolving cultural and religious atmosphere. Now, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn what we needed to know to lead a church in seminary or course of study. Rather, it means that to continue as fruitful and effective leaders of the church, we must seek out new opportunities to learn and grow as servants of Christ and Christ’s church.
In effect, the disciples are getting some continuing ed as they encounter Jesus on the beach on this morning some time after his resurrection. They have been working with Jesus for three years. They have heard his call and followed him. They have listened to him teach. They have watched him heal and do miracles. They have gone from village to village casting out demons and healing under Jesus’ authority. It’s not as if they don’t know what their work is about; but there is always room to learn more. And, on this early morning, as the disciples fish and dine with Jesus yet again, they have their first continuing education experience; they learn a bit more about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. With the Sea of Galilee as the backdrop, the disciples in the midst of everyday activity encounter the risen Jesus again, and have some more lessons from him.
Why had the disciples gone fishing that morning? As we all know, tragedy jars us; it interrupts our lives and takes us into an alternative reality for a time as we try and cope with the emotional and physical impact of any trauma. And the disciples had experienced a great tragedy. Only days before, their leader had been brutally crucified; and though he rose from the dead, they no doubt were exhausted and tired from the emotional roller coaster of the preceding weeks. We all know that in the face of such tragedy, sometimes the best thing to do is to try and get back to “normal.” To occupy our minds with the normal everyday tasks of our lives rather than allow ourselves to be consumed with uncertainty and grief. I suspect that this is precisely what the disciples were trying to do. They were fisherman. So, after the death and resurrection of Christ, with their leader no longer standing among them each and every day, they decided to get back to fishing. They were ready to get on with life; to do the next thing; to catch some fish. Except, it didn’t work. They knew the sea; they knew where the fish congregated. Yet though they sat all night with their nets cast, they caught nothing. Then, just as dawn was breaking and they were preparing to “pack it in,” Jesus appeared with a new command, a new lesson: “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some [fish].” It seems silly; if they weren’t able to catch fish on one side of the boat, what difference would it make to put the net on the other side of the boat. But as the disciples quickly learned, sometimes the smallest change can make the biggest difference when it comes to following Christ; if only we will listen.
There we have our first continuing education lesson from the risen Jesus. Sometimes we have to be prepared and willing to make a change; however small or silly it may seem. We can easily stand in our mind’s eye with the disciples in the boat; laboring over projects and feeling like we are getting nowhere. Perhaps even a bit stubborn in our insistence to keep doing what we have always done. Then dawn comes; our awareness is heightened, and we sense perhaps a presence not too far away – Jesus in our midst. It is then that we have to listen for his voice, and to do whatever it is he commands. And if we are willing to make even the slightest change, it could “net” amazing results! But we have to stay focused on Jesus!
That morning on the Sea of Galilea, as the disciples encounter Jesus yet again, the events of the day become a living parable about the disciples’ mission as fishers of people; a mission that is before us even today. You see, the disciples’ failure to catch any fish until they follow Jesus’ instructions symbolizes the need to depend on Jesus for their mission. And we too have to depend on Jesus as we follow his mission in the world today. We must put aside our fear and trust that when Jesus speaks to us, he is directing us in the best way. We have to truly believe in Christ’s purposes for our lives, but more importantly his purposes for this world. With Christ, there is a new “normal.” The disciples are no longer just fishers, they are fishers of people. Our day-to-day work isn’t just about the numbers or the profits or the emails; it’s about bearing constant witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who stands not too far away, preparing a meal and inviting all to join him.