Many of the Resurrection narratives, including John’s account of the appearance at the Sea of Tiberias, are characterised by an initial failure on the part of the disciples to recognise their Risen Lord. It was as if someone greatly loved had been irretrievably lost. In their heart of hearts they did not expect to find Jesus again.
Such is the experience of sinful humanity in its many broken relationships. Those once so close to us seem lost forever through the sin that makes us strangers. Through sin we distance ourselves from God, becoming strangers with little hope of knowing his presence again.
Such was the mind of the Apostles as they set forth with Peter on a futile fishing trip. The emptiness of their nets echoed the emptiness of their hearts. The meeting with Jesus, when it came, was completely unexpected. “It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.”
The narrative gathers pace as the full impact of Christ’s Resurrection is revealed in his disciples. In Christ’s presence, what had seemed meaningless and futile was now charged with meaning: after labouring in vain throughout the night their nets were now filled to breaking.
The Christ, who had so often shared their table in the past, stood waiting for them on the shore, once again inviting them to share his table.
The power of the Resurrection is demonstrated most powerfully in the reconciliation of God and sinner. The sinner fears that God is lost forever, and yet, on the shores of Galilee, estranged disciples were reconciled with their Lord.
This year of mercy proclaims that the God of mercy and forgiveness awaits us in a sinful world, often in the most unexpected places. Sometimes it will be through the unexpected kindness and compassion of a stranger that we are touched by God’s living presence.
The subsequent dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter mirrors the grace of forgiveness. Peter, who had thrice denied his Lord, was challenged to love. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?”
The challenge to love was repeated three times. We, who are so hasty to condemn, should perhaps realise that the Father’s call to repentance always begins with an invitation to love. Only when we have surrendered ourselves to that love can we become the heralds of such mercy.
“Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him: “Feed my sheep.”
This article first appeared in the April 8 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To download the entire issue for free with our new app, go here.
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