Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.
Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
So, they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.
When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (CEB)
Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, it takes a bit of time to wrap our heads and our hearts around a new reality. After all, if you’ve been used to operating a particular way for a long time, it can be hard to come around to embracing difference – even if that change is really good.
Good ol’ Peter, you’ve got to love him. Bless his heart, the Lord Jesus is risen from death and he, along with some of the other disciple fishermen, are not quite up to speed on resurrection. Christ is alive, the disciples have already seen him on two separate occasions, yet they seem like a dog who has chased a rabbit and now don’t know what to do with it once they’ve surprisingly gotten it.
So, Peter goes fishing. Yep, when all else seems upside-down and topsy-turvy, just go fishing. The problem is: Peter and the boys are going back to a life that doesn’t exist anymore. And that’s pretty much what we all tend to do when we are stuck in a liminal space, caught in a situation of uncertainty without much of a clue what to do. We simply go back to what we’ve always done and hope we catch some fish.
But we can’t catch fish. It isn’t the same anymore. The resurrection of Jesus has completely upended the world. There’s no going back to any sort of pre-resurrection days. All has changed. I’m not sure if the disciples believed they were going to catch any fish, or not. Seems they just had to go do something familiar.
Unknown to them, the rules changed. The old way of fishing won’t work. While they’re off trying to live from the old life, Jesus shows up on shore. The disciples don’t realize its him. So, they don’t anticipate that when Jesus calls out and encourages them that they’ll end up with a nice haul of fish. While the old life yields nothing, the new life with Christ brings abundance, blessing, and fellowship. After the big catch of fish, here are the disciples now eating breakfast with the King of Kings, yet they’re still scratching their heads. What’s going on? Who is it? Well, of course, it’s Jesus, but is it? What’s the plan? I’m so confused.
In the passage and the journey from one reality to another, from a place of familiarity to a place of a future we’ve never seen, from an old life to a new life, there is both the shadow of doubt which makes everything feel so uncertain and the confidence of faith which keeps us going forward. In this middle space there is a continual vacillating between doubt and faith. Rarely is there ever a black-and-white existence. No, instead its wise to become friends with the gray because most lessons we learn come while inhabiting this weird in-between space.
When the disciples encountered Jesus in today’s Gospel story, it was an experience of Jesus in the middle – a six-week time between resurrection and ascension. It was also an experience of the disciples in the middle. There was no going back to a pre-resurrection time of walking and talking with Jesus as they had done before. And there is also no future where they can live in the past or pick up the fishing business just like before.
Although we have the advantage of knowing how the story shakes-out with Christ’s ascension, the giving of the Spirit, and a robustly bold group of disciples going out to change the world – the disciples cannot picture that future in their liminal space on the beach.
We, too, inhabit a middle space. We are in-between the two advents of Christ. This truly is an awkward time in which we, along with disciples, experience a mix of belief and doubt because we aren’t at the end of the story. So, a combination of worship and wondering exists in the here-and-now. Jesus doesn’t chide the disciples for sometimes believing and sometimes not; and, our Lord isn’t exasperated with us because one of the certainties for the Christian is that grace overcomes everything. Sitting down with Word and Meal creates a new space where we can begin to make sense of our sometimes very nonsensical lives.
Great God of Resurrection, help me to embrace both the meaning and the mystery of faith as I negotiate and interpret every situation in my life through the light of Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Click There Is a Hope by Stuart Townsend for encouragement through your liminal space.