The disciples had gone back to fishing. Late one afternoon they got into a boat and went out but caught nothing. Early the next morning as they were returning, there was Jesus standing on the shore. He asked if they had caught anything and when they answered in the negative his response was, ”Cast your net to the right side and you’ll get a catch” (John 21:6). When they did, they caught so many fish that they couldn’t even hoist the net into the boat. It’s clear that when they did what Jesus told them to do (“cast your net on the RIGHT side”) they were able to do what they had been trying all night to do. We don’t need to ask how Jesus knew where the fish were – they were on the right side and that is where the disciples should cast their net.
Could there be a lesson here? I think so and would like to put on the preacher’s hat and, using the metaphor, discuss the advantages of being on the right side of the issues of life. I would call the homily something like, “The Secret of Successful Fishing.”
To achieve any important goal it is crucial to fish for the answer on the right side. For the believer, the right side is determined by scripture. For example, if you are fishing for inner peace or relief from anxiety the right side is wherever scripture says it is. Philippians 4:6-7 answers the question of how to escape anxiety and find peace by pointing out that “earnest and thankful prayer” (Phillips) is the side of life’s boat on which you will land the “peace of God that transcends human understanding.” While secular insights may be helpful – one writer correctly says that “inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness” – I’d rather ask scripture to tell me where to find the complete answer.
In all the genuinely significant decisions of life there is a right side and a wrong side and – you guessed it – the best fish are on the right side. The God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is a righteous God, which means that he always does the right thing. He makes no mistakes. His decisions are always right. If we, his creation, want the deep pleasure of living the “right way” we should ask him. Our conscience, although not perfect, is a great place to listen for answers to life’s decisions. It’s an excellent guide for our passage through the difficult storms of life. Do what it has to say about what is right and what is wrong. It’s not perfect but it is infinitely better than trying to figure it out some other way. The disciples had the best day of fishing in their life because they followed instructions. If we want our net so full that we can hardly pull it up, then fish on the right side.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples the first time after his resurrection, Thomas was not there. When they told him that Jesus had risen from the dead he answered that he’d have to have better evidence than that. Before he could believe he’d have to feel the nail scars and the wound with his own hands. Then, once again Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors. After a greeting, Jesus turned to Thomas and told him to feel where the nails had been driven through and the sword had pierced. Thomas needed no further verification and exclaimed, “It is you! My Lord and my God!” What impresses me is Jesus’ willingness to adjust to the weakness of his disciple. He didn’t blame Thomas for not believing what the others had told him. He didn’t chide him for what could be called a weak faith. He adjusted to Thomas’ weakness and invited him to go ahead and prove for himself that the report of his return to life was true.
What is Jesus teaching us by his response to Thomas? One thing is that faith is more difficult for some than for others. While you wouldn’t call the faith of the other disciples robust, they did come, albeit somewhat slowly, to fully accept that their master was alive once again. Thomas needed a bit more. He said he had to ”see the wounds where the nails were driven through and touch them with his “own finger.” He insisted he could never believe until he had a chance to put his hand in the side of Jesus where “the spear drew blood.”
Jesus understood the weakness that had caused Thomas to demand that he himself inspect the wounds, yet he did not shame him. He didn’t say something like, “Look, the other disciples believed without some dramatic proof; what’s the matter with you?” He met Thomas at the point of his imperfection and adjusted to what was necessary in the process of coming to faith. Jesus understood that some people have a bit more trouble than others in accepting the miraculous. Thomas was a lot like a former friend of mine who wanted to have all of his questions answered before he could believe. My answer to that rather common problem was to help him see that knowledge follows faith, not the other way around. No one argues himself into the kingdom. While faith is not unreasonable, one doesn’t arrive at believing by having all his questions answered. Every time you step into an elevator you have “faith” in its reliability, but the “knowledge” that it is trustworthy comes when you step out of it ten stories below.
Jesus put himself in the place of the other. We can say that Thomas should have believed as did the others but sensing his problem Jesus took the action necessary to bring him to faith. For us that means we should not look down on the one who wants to believe but apparently can’t take the necessary step. Understanding the other’s problem we should take whatever step is appropriate to help them come to believe. That’s what Jesus did!
Jesus had risen from the dead, Mary had seen him, the disciples had been told that the tomb was empty and Peter and John had run there to see if the report was true. But now the disciples are huddled behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish authorities. Then the seemingly impossible happened: “Suddenly Jesus appeared right there in their midst” (Luke 24:36). Thinking he was a ghost, they were terrified, so Jesus chided them a bit asking them to take hold of his hands or feet to make sure he was real. He explained that all of this that was happening to him had been written in the law and prophets. Then he did something of crucial importance – “He opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
There are two points in this story that are especially relevant to how we are to live in our relationship with Jesus. The first is that He has a way of suddenly appearing in our midst. Is it not true that Jesus was actually there before he “suddenly appeared?” We know that at the moment of faith God is said to dwell in us. So if he is “in us” is he not always with us? We know from Heb 1:15 that God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. So we can say that although Jesus “suddenly appeared” to the disciples, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t with them prior that moment. He didn’t come through the door because he was already there. The point for us is that we are to be aware of the constant presence of the resurrected. He is always with us for guidance, for strength, for encouragement, and for sharing the joys as well as the trials of daily life. That he may not be physically materialized has nothing to do with the reality of his presence. Remember, “I will never leave you nor forsake you!”
The other point is related: For us to understand scripture, we must allow him to open our eyes. The gospel account is not a series of words organized to convey something. Of course, there are words, and they say something, but words, like Jesus, have a way of “materializing” when our eyes are opened. They communicate. God wants to actually speak through the words of the biblical authors, but for that to happen we must by faith have the veil removed. Now we can hear him say, “I love you and have forgiven you in Christ.” In the life of every believer there are those faith-filled moments when the words of scripture become the actual voice of God. And that is the way to read scripture. Let God speak.
Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples (although he was always there) and He suddenly speaks to our heart (although we tend to be too busy for extended conversations). To be mentored by Jesus is to recognize his presence and listen to what he wants our heart to hear.
It was Sunday afternoon and two of Jesus’s followers were returning from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. As they were walking along the way, he joined them and asked what they were discussing. They marveled that he would ask because everybody knew about the Galilean preacher by the name of Jesus who had come back from the dead that very morning. That remarkable event was as all that people could talk about. When the two men told Jesus all about it, he chided them for not knowing that Moses and the prophets had taught that the Messiah would suffer. Then he pointed out all the passages in Scripture that spoke of him. When they reached their destination Jesus was going to continue, but at their invitation he stayed for the evening meal. It was when he took the bread and broke it that they realized who he was. At that point Jesus disappeared from their sight. Cleopas and his companion looked at each other in astonishment and said, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he spoke to us along the road, explaining scripture?” (Luke 24:32)
This encounter is one of the most endearing passages in the gospels. The two men were simply returning from the capitol city filled with wonder at what everyone was saying had happened. They were intrigued by the explanation of the one who had joined them. However, it was at the table when Jesus broke the bread that they suddenly caught on who he was. And then he was gone. They looked at one another and confessed that they should have known because while he was explaining scripture along the road – “Did not our hearts burn within us?”
To realize the deeper meaning of scripture is to experience the “burning heart.” Truth needs no support from logic. We have all felt the warmth of divine truth when we have learned it along the road of life. Even the more secular world acknowledges refers to the “ring of truth.” And this truth warms because it puts us in a vital relationship with God, the One who is speaking through it. It’s important to realize that scripture is not simply words in a book. The purpose of scripture is to allow you to fellowship with and learn from God. It is when a favorite passage becomes God himself speaking as being there that the heart begins to burn. The Fourth Gospel tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He did, and when his presence is revealed to us I can guarantee that our hearts will also begin to burn. May your life be a Walk to Emmaus along with Jesus
It was early Sunday morning and two of the women close to Jesus and his disciples had come to the tomb to prepare his body. Upon arriving they saw the stone rolled away and an angel of the Lord in dazzling white met them with the glad news that Christ was risen. The two women were told to go and tell Peter and the others that Christ was risen from the dead. Mary the mother of James left but Mary Magdalene remained behind in tears. As she sat facing the empty tomb she heard a voice behind her. Believing it to be the gardener, she asked where the body was so she could go and get him. His response was a tender and loving, “Mary.” Turning she cried out in wonder and joy, “Rabbouni!” We understand that she probably took ahold of his feet for he said to her, “You don’t need to hold on to me; I’ll be here for a while before I go to my Father.” Never has there been a more moving reunion than this. All Jesus said was, “Mary!” and in that moment her affection for her “Teacher” could not be restrained.
It has always been intriguing to me that the first person to see the resurrected Jesus was a woman from whom seven demons had been expelled (Luke 8:2). In view of the importance of Peter in early Christianity, one might assume that it would have been to him that the resurrected Jesus would have first appeared. But he heard about it from the women and even then he and the other disciples questioned the report. So Peter and John went back out to the tomb to see whether or not it was merely an idle tale. I’m inclined to believe that Mary was the first to see Jesus because her love for him was the greatest. Not that love can be quantified but it just seems so appropriate.
What does that encounter say to us in terms of how we should live? It’s simple; we should love like Mary. Taking “seven” as symbolic we can say that Mary’s love was perfect and complete. It lacked nothing. In life there are varying degrees of affection. Mary’s put her before the tomb, weeping for the loss of her Teacher. What do you suppose the rest were doing? Perhaps they were at the local “pub” coming to grips with the possibility that their hopes for prominence in the coming kingdom may have been misguided? At least, that Peter and John had to run out to the empty tomb to verify a woman’s report suggests that they had already considered returning to fishing.
What a moment! What a tender voice! What a remarkable love on the part of a woman from whom seven demonhad been cast.
The crucifixion was over and the crowds had begun to dissipate. Standing somewhat at a distance were the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to be of help (Mark 15:40). Among them was his mother, Mary. It probably comes as no surprise that standing there beside his mother was John, the “beloved disciple.” Although Jesus was in intense pain, his thoughts went out immediately to his mother, grieving as only a mother in that situation could. Looking with love at his mother, Jesus, said, “Mother dear, John is now your son!” Then turning to John added, “My mother Mary is now your mother!” (John 19:26-27). We are not sure about his father Joseph, but it is assumed that he had passed on. Scripture says nothing about his siblings at this point. So Mary in her sorrow and loneliness needed care and John, such a dear friend, was exactly the right person.
How can we live in such a way as to reflect that kind of personal concern for those we love? Empathy is defined as the “vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” It is reaching out with the heart to touch another. And Jesus was that kind of man. Obviously, empathy is a quality of character expected of those who profess to have surrendered themselves to Him. To care deeply for another may be easier for those born with that temperament but there is no excuse for “empathy deficit” (as Kirsten Powers put it) in the life of the believer.
Note, as well, that Jesus’ feelings of deep concern for his grieving mother did not stop at the point of being empathetic. It moved him to take the action necessary to meet the situation. I would think that it was not accidental that John was standing there by Mary. From what we know in scripture of the disciples, John would be the one to be there in a place to help. Perhaps this shows something else about the empathetic Christian (an oxymoron?) – they seem always to be in places where need may arise. I have the feeling that for most, life is so busy just staying alive that little time is left for dealing with the needs of others.
May God grant us the willingness to learn from his Son how to become the kind of people who are always sensitive to the deep need of others and moved to do something about it.
When Jesus arrived at the place of execution, the Roman soldiers offered him some wine mixed with a drug called Myrrh. He took a sip, but found it too bitter to drink. Then they placed him on a wooden cross, nailed his hands and feet to it and raised it upright. Hung between heaven and earth, the Son of God gave his life as a ransom for our sin. I believe he was looking down on the battle-hardened soldiers who were dividing up his clothing when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” What a remarkable act of forgiving love!
Forgiveness is the decision not to repay, the willingness not to seek revenge. Some might regard it as an indication of weakness, but Gandhi was correct when he said, “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” That Jesus – in pain from the scourging, the long trek to Calvary, being nailed to the cross – was able to muster the strength to pray that God would forgive his tormenters, is beyond comprehension. Apart from supernatural strengthening, to undergo such an ordeal would have been impossible.
It is obvious that to live as Christ lived we must be willing to forgive those who have belligerently blocked our path in some way. That there can be no exceptions is clear from the fact that Jesus forgave in the most radical situation – he forgave his executioners. He even acted like a defense lawyer and stated the grounds on which the guards could be forgiven. Earlier he had taught his followers that being forgiven depends on one’s willingness to forgive. The critical words are, “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Forgiveness is a power that changes the life of the forgiver. It frees the one who embraces it and puts it into practice. No longer do they have to be concerned about paying back the offender. Revenge demands that we give full attention to getting even and that concern robs us of our only irreplaceable treasure – time. And while we are spending precious time trying to figure how to get even, our supposed offender goes scot-free. That’s a bad tradeoff! Sin has a way of destroying the one who sins. In a similar way, forgiveness blesses the one who forgives. Once we get our minds off ourselves, it is easy to see that actions, good or bad, undoubtedly benefit or harm the doer more than the recipient. Who can deny the pleasure of those given to random acts of kindness! While forgiveness is specific rather than random, it certainly brightens the day of both.
When you read the story of the trial of Jesus before Pilate, which takes you all the way from that point in time to a cross on Calvary’s hill, you will be struck by the fact that Jesus is recorded as speaking only once. Let’s watch what goes on during this tragic period.
When Pilate heard the crowds identify Jesus as a Galilean, he breathed a sigh of relief and sent him to Herod the Tetrarch who was in charge of that area. Jesus refused to perform a miracle for the Roman tyrant, so he was returned to Pilate who declared him innocent. But to satisfy the crowd, Pilate said he would have him whipped and then released. That didn’t satisfy the crowd so Pilate gave them a choice between Jesus and a guilty rebel by the name of Barabbas. The crowd chose the latter and keep shouting, “Crucify him!” Jesus said nothing.
At that point Pilate had Jesus turned over to Roman troops who stripped him of his clothing and put a scarlet robe on him. Twisting thorny branches into a crown they jammed it down on his head. Then kneeling at his feet they mocked him as king, spit on him, and beat him severely with his staff. Jesus said nothing. When returned to Pilate with crown and scarlet robe the crowds shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus said nothing.
Once again Pilate took Jesus inside and with all seriousness asked him where he came from. When Jesus refused to answer, Pilate reminded him that he had authority to set him free or to crucify him. It was at that point that the record says that Jesus spoke. He told Pilate that his authority as a Roman governor to make the decision had been given to him by God. And that is the only recorded utterance of Jesus during this long sequence of actions. Unable to withstand the demands of the mob, Jesus was flogged and released to the soldiers for crucifixion.
The dignity of our Lord in this appalling series of cruel and debasing events is remarkable beyond belief. Falsely accused, he said nothing. Unjustly beaten, he said nothing. Publically humiliated, he said nothing. What does that say about how we are to live as Christ lived? The answer is clear: When unfairly accused, remain silent. If you didn’t do what they said you did, any attempt to exonerate yourself is useless. Truth is enhanced by the quiet refusal to explain why we didn’t do what we didn’t do