Revisiting the Original Experience: Faithfulness to Christ and His Mission

Fr. Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau

3rd Sunday of Easter

JN 21:1-19

The apparition of Jesus on the shore of Lake Tiberias, after the resurrection, is traditionally interpreted allegorically. The disciples going to fish represents the work of the Church, and catching nothing refers to an unsuccessful mission. Then, obeying the Master’s instruction, they threw the net and made a great catch. The Lord’s presence is necessary for the Church to succeed in her mission.

A spiritual meditation could help us gain deeper insights into our inner selves. Look at it this way: that fateful journey the disciples made with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, remained a chapter in their life they wanted to forget. The Master was crucified, killed and buried. Some women reported that they had seen Jesus, and that he had told them to go back to Galilee where he would meet them. They had seen him come like a ghost and share a meal with them. But what next? For them, it was a failed project. What if he had risen? What more could they do even if he had risen? When he was physically present with them, he directed them where to go and how to accomplish their given tasks. Now, he was not with them anymore. How would they proceed? And where?

In the darkness and confusion, they decided together to go back to their original trade, fishing. Peter began, and everyone followed. Their skills had become rusty, and they were unsure if they would succeed. They did not. One more night in the life of Peter without any catch. It was after one of those nights of failure as they returned despondent, a stranger on the shore asked them to cast the net into the deep once again. With some unknown sense of urgency, they obey. There was a big catch. They realized the stranger was the risen Lord. He prepared them breakfast and fed them like a mother.

The first episode of encountering the Lord replayed in the mind of Peter. In the encounter, he had asked Jesus to leave him for he was sinful. This time, he runs to the Lord. He was called to catch people in that first encounter, and now he begins to blame himself for returning to the trade that the Master had asked him to leave behind. Peter knows; clearly, the Lord was reminding him of that first call. Peter is a symbol of those who return to their old ways after following the Lord. Even when we know the Lord is there and feel no emotional consolation, we despair and tend to fall back on our past occupations that give only temporary joys. The women who went to see the body of Jesus also experienced the same predicament. When their hopes were lost, they relied on what was left behind — the dead body, things that should be left behind. The wake-up call of the angels should be repeated in our spiritual lives regularly. Why are you seeking the Risen One among the dead?

The risen Lord uses Peter’s first experience of the divine encounter to remind him of his mission. When we feel powerless and discouraged, returning to the original divine encounter, that powered our initial enthusiasm, can refuel us. Jesus would then invite Peter to commit to the cause he was called to. The first experience of Peter finds its completion only in this commitment. Before he asks for commitment, Jesus puts a test of loyalty to Peter, a test consisting of the same question—if he loved enough—repeated three times. He passes the test. Then the Lord gives him the authority to tend his sheep.

This time, Peter did not ask for his reward as before, “We have left everything and followed you.” Instead, Jesus tells him, he will lose his liberty, he will be clothed (made naked) by others, and he will stretch his hands out, and die like his Master. This time around, there are no attractive promises of hundredfold returns. But his commitment was complete and unwavering. He endured to the end.

(Image: Christ Appears on the Shore of Lake Tiberias by James Tissot. Source: Wikimedia Commons)