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God's Word on Sunday: Discipleship takes us where we’d rather not go

  • April 25, 2022

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

There are some words that just cannot remain unspoken. They burn within and demand to be shouted from the rooftops. Jeremiah the prophet discovered that when he tried to resign as prophet and not speak the name of the Lord anymore. He could not contain himself.

It was a similar case with the Apostles, who had been arrested and interrogated for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. They had been ordered by the authorities to remain silent but had not done so, and now they were really in trouble. But they stood their ground, insisting that it was better to obey God than human beings. They could not help bearing witness to the marvelous and life-altering things that they had seen and heard, and no power on Earth could stop them.

In the omitted verses, rabbi Gamaliel intervened and advised the council to let them go. After all, maybe what they said was true — let time decide. If their message was from God, it would thrive; if not, it would die of its own accord. Not bad advice, both then and now.

Once again, the gag order was placed on them, and they were released. They did not view themselves as victims for having been dishonoured for the sake of the name of God, but as those deemed worthy of so great a privilege. It is an honour to suffer for what is just and right.

Unfortunately, too many Christians today are easily cowed into silence. In some settings, it is out of fear of real persecution and even violence. But in our own setting, the avoidance of embarrassment, ridicule or not standing out from the crowd is the motivator. We should not be afraid to be who we are and proclaim what we believe in an appropriate way.

The passage from Revelation is an exercise for the sacred imagination. What would thousands upon thousands of angelic voices sound like as they continually praised the Christ? All of their praise was directed at the Lamb — Jesus — as the one worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honour, glory and blessing. It then became a cosmic song as all of creation took up the cry of adoration and praise of God, who sits upon the throne and the Lamb. What is striking is that God and the Christ are the sole focus and reality — God is “all in all.” If only that experience would flood our own minds and hearts our fears, doubts and selfishness would vanish.

The last chapter of John’s Gospel is rather strange and even dreamlike. The figure on the beach whom the Apostles encountered was Jesus, but they were never quite sure. Even as they stood in His presence eating the breakfast that He had prepared for them, they were silent and asked no questions. Considering that in the preceding chapter they had encountered Jesus in the upper room and received the Spirit, they seemed strangely diffident and perplexed.

John informs us that the full nets held exactly 153 fish — an inconsequential detail, except that it represents an ancient numerological expression of universality. The Lord’s net will indeed be sweeping and all-encompassing in its haul of souls. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times, so Jesus asked three times if Peter loved Him more than the others. Each time Peter responded affirmatively, and Jesus ordered him to “tend my lambs” or “feed my sheep.” After being questioned for the third time, Peter lost it — he knew that Jesus was looking for a particular answer but was not getting it. This was a lesson in leadership and pastoral care.

Exercising care for the sheep is the core of any position of authority or responsibility. We have often forgotten this with catastrophic consequences. Leadership is all about humble service and reflects the washing of the feet at the Last Supper.

Peter then received some unexpected news: his life was no longer his own, as it had been when he was younger. From now on the Spirit would take him where he would rather not go, as it is with all who take discipleship seriously. Peter would be deemed worthy to give his life in witness to the Light and to Jesus Christ. And he did not see himself as a victim, but as one deemed worthy.