Reflections on the New Testament’s John 21:1-14

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Prompted by sermons from Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church‘s Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen and former Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, I have been pondering John 21: 1-14 and offer these reflections on this passage of the New Testament.

After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Simon Peter and six other disciples return to their livelihood of fishing. They go fishing with their nets, not to do recreational fishing with rods and lures. After all, they have to live and support their families. Presumably they go out in the early morning and continue into the night without any success. They are exhausted, frustrated and famished. [1]

Jesus arrives on the scene unsolicited and unannounced.  His arrival shows He recognizes and understands that even his most devoted followers have an ongoing need for inspiration, reminders and encouragement from, and companionship with, Jesus. His appearance could be seen as a test marketing of the Holy Spirit or doing market research on the Holy Spirit with a focus group.

Jesus’ appearance also shows, I believe, that he too desired companionship with his followers. There was a mutuality of interest and desire.

Jesus had good cause to rebuke his disciples that night for their failures after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, but Jesus did not do so. Instead, Jesus is the hospitable host. He tells them where they can catch fish [2] and then prepares the camp fire and cooks some of the fish, which he gives with bread to the hungry fishermen-disciples for breakfast. This undoubtedly reminded the disciples of His Last Supper with them when He gave them wine and bread.

The need for the followers of Jesus to be in the every-day world with all of its temptations was emphasized in the anthem “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go,” by Charles Wesley. Its very first line says, “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue.” The rest of the anthem prays for guidance in that daily labor in the real world. It says, “The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.” (Emphasis added; full text below.)

The Wesley anthem also recognizes the dark side of that daily labor with these words, “Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.” In other words, being involved in the everyday world often leads to idolizing the rewards of the secular world (“the gilded baits of worldly love”), which are the seductions of my daily labor (“my calling’s snare” and the “thorns of choking care”). (Emphasis added.)

The first phrase of this line (“my calling’s snare“) reminded me of the third verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace: “Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…and Grace will lead us home.” (Emphasis added.)

The word “snare” is not much used today so I looked it up. Snare” originally were anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals such as squirrels and rabbits. More generally the word means something by which an unwary person is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded.

Thus, “my calling’s snare,” for me, means the traps that are commonly associated with my calling or profession. As a former lawyer who personally knew at least three lawyers who were convicted of crimes and served time in prison, I can say that “my calling’s snares” include embezzlement of funds entrusted to the attorney, being involved in promoting or concealing fraudulent activities of others, trading securities based on undisclosed inside information and lying or shading the truth of factual representations.

The Lord’s Prayer speaks directly to these snares or traps when it says, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil.” And the verse of “Amazing Grace” quoted above clearly acknowledges that God’s grace, rather than our own efforts, is the reason why so far we have survived the “dangers, toils and snares.”

Amen.

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[1] Some commentators see the disciples’ fishing trip as a sign of their complete apostasy and aimlessness. 9 The New Interpreter’s Bible–Luke and John at 857 (Nashville; Abingdon Press, 1995).

[2] Immediately after following Jesus’ direction of where to fish, the disciples miraculously caught a large number of fish (153 large ones, to be precise).

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John 21: 1-14 (New Revised Standard):

  • “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of [Galilee]; and he showed himself in this way.  Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
  • Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
  • When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

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Charles Wesley , “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go:”

  • “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue; thee, only thee, resolved to know in all I think or speak or do.
  • The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.
  • Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.
  • Thee may I set at my right hand whose eyes my inmost substance see, and labor on at thy command and offer all my works to thee.
  • Give me to bear thy easy yoke, and every moment watch and pray, and still to things eternal look,
  • And hasten to thy glorious day; for thee delightfully employ whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given.
  • And run my course with even joy, and closely walk with thee to heaven.

What Do We Christians Do After Easter?

 

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

 

This was the title of the sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on April 21, 2013, by its Pastor and Head of Staff, Rev. Dr. Timothy D. Hart-Andersen.[1]

 

Rev. Hart-Andersen reminded us of our collective “bad week” with the Boston Marathon bombings, the resulting manhunt, poison letters to our president and a senator, the defeat of a bi-partisan gun control measure, the deaths in the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, the large earthquake in China and a huge snowstorm in Minnesota.  “There’s something not right with the world, but that’s nothing new. It has ever been thus.”

“We Christians are realists about the human condition. The biblical story is not one long narrative of sweetness and light. Jesus is not Pollyanna. The world is not like that; the brutality of the cross teaches us the reality that there are forces loose in the world and within each of us that lead away from the light, that pull in the direction of death and destruction.”

“Our faith is not meant to ignore that darkness. Nor is it a way to withdraw from it. If we learned nothing else from the cross . . ., at least we learned that we can face the darkness and trust it will not overcome the light. That is the simple message of Easter. Love wins. The Light does not go out. Hope prevails.”

“When we come to worship each week we’re coming to shelter-in-place together, to hold fast to our trust in a God whose love and life and justice will outlast any attempts to deny them. That is the heart of our Easter faith; we need more than ever to exercise that faith in our time.”

In the Biblical text for the day(John 21: 1-14; full text below), Simon Peter and six of the other disciples of Jesus were back at their work of fishing, but without success, on the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Said Hart-Andersen,”Easter has happened. [The disciples have] left the city. They’ve returned to work. They have families to care for. They have lives to lead, projects to finish, children to raise. . . . They go back home.”

“For the Good News to be good it has to give us hope in the present, right in the midst of all that life throws at us. That’s what occurs to the fishermen; the new hope they have is meant for the everyday world, the world of fishing and feasting and family.”

“What do we do after Easter? Like the disciples, we go back to work, we return to the routine, we get caught up in the mundane stuff of everyday life. In a way nothing has changed; and yet, everything has been altered.”

“Our faith is not something we bring out only on Sundays; in fact, the church is most active during the week, between Sundays, and not in this building, but in our work places, at our schools, in our homes, on the streets. Jesus did not mean for us to become sequestered, holy people, living apart from the world. We were saved to go and be the church in and for the world.”

“If we limit the work of the church only to that which we do within these [church] walls, or on Sundays, or at church events . . ., we miss the whole point of the gospel. . . . [Jesus] gave his life so that we might be called into a community that joins God out there in changing the world.”

“What do we do after Easter? We take that Good News, that gospel, and go right back into the world with it. Wherever we are, we work to end the violence. Whatever we do, we work to bring peace. Whoever we are, we work to restore the goodness of creation. However we do it, we work to give children a better future.”

“We join God who is already at work in the world.”

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[1] The church bulletin along with an audio and video recording of the service is online. Other posts discuss other sermons and the ministries of Westminster. One concerned a sermon by a former Westminster Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, on the same Biblical text as the April 21st sermon.

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John 21: 1-14 (New Revised Standard):

  • “After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of [Galilee]; and he showed himself in this way.  Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
  • Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
  • When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’  So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.  Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”