God's Word on Sunday: Our freedom comes with being fearless

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  • April 29, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter, May 5 (Year C) Acts 5:28-32, 40b-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Threats and intimidation are usually enough to keep people submissive and in line. The threat can range anywhere from death to dismissal or a bad evaluation, but the effect is always the same: silence and acquiescence.

Today ridicule and humiliation are also powerful weapons in the arsenal. This is how tyrannical regimes or individuals impose their will on others. But what if you were in possession of news that was so astounding and wonderful that you could not remain silent? What if you didn’t care about the consequences?

The apostles had been forbidden to speak about Jesus, especially His resurrection from the dead. The sinister reminder by the authorities was expected to cow them into silence, but it had the opposite effect. Peter defiantly stated that it was necessary to obey God rather than human beings.

This is something we often forget — we give humans and their structures more power over us than God, and we seek to placate them rather than God. Peter would have none of it. He reiterated the proclamation that Jesus had been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God.

It was He who would restore and forgive Israel, and the apostles were the joyful witnesses to this. They were given further warnings and dismissed. They rejoiced, and we might find this strange, but there was a good reason. Their joy stemmed from their being found worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name — God.

Today many Christians suffer for the name of Jesus, but often this is not considered a cause for rejoicing. A sense of victimhood is often felt instead, but the apostles did not consider themselves as victims at all.

Perhaps we can feel a bit more joyful or at least fearless about taking the heat for our faith or simply for what is right. When we are able to do that, then we are free and worldly power has no hold on us.

John’s stunning vision of thousands upon thousands of angels surrounding the throne also carries a potent theological message. The host of angels all join their voices in praising God and the Lamb, Jesus.

In their hymn of praise, all praise, honour, glory and power is focused solely on Jesus and on God the Father — and that is how it should be. God alone is worthy of glory and God alone is in charge. When humans forget that, disaster follows.

The inflated egos and out of control desires of many have brought much suffering to humanity throughout history, as they do today. Humans focus on things of the Earth and earthly ways, but our very existence has true meaning only in God.

The strange dreamlike collection of post-Resurrection appearances in Chapter 21 were appended well after the Gospel was written. The miraculous catch story made only one other appearance in the Gospels — Luke 5, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Here it served another purpose. The net filled to overflowing with fish and yet not torn symbolizes the universal ingathering of souls at the end times.

The reference to 153 fish is puzzling — many of the Church Fathers tried their best at cracking the code. According to an ancient naturalist, there were 153 species of fish in the sea, a further indication that this passage is about universality and completeness.

The threefold questioning of Peter served to rehabilitate Peter after his three denials of the Lord. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him; three times he answered affirmatively, but Jesus did not let him off the hook easily. To each affirmation, Jesus insisted that he feed His lambs and tend His sheep.

Affirmations of love are easy enough to make, but they are often meaningless in practical terms. Too often we speak of Christian love, but one would be hard-pressed to find evidence of it. Love is a verb. It must always be expressed in deeds and, in this case, by loving care for others.

This was also John’s model of community leadership — unremitting care for the wellbeing of its members rather than the reputation or power of an institution. Love is as love does, so let us leave behind irrefutable testimony of our devotion to the Lord and His message.

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