A Voice From The Beach
The Gospel according to John closes with one more miracle given by Jesus. Although it is the final miracle recorded in the Gospel, it is the first of his resurrected life.
It happened this way: Some of the disciples of Jesus were sitting about on the shore by the Sea of Tiberias. They felt gloomy because Jesus was no longer with them. They had witnessed his death and later his resurrection, all only a matter of weeks ago. On a few occasions, Jesus had appeared to them in his physical form to show that he had indeed conquered death for all. In reality, the disciples missed Jesus because not so long ago they were with him everyday. He was their friend and leader, he was their Shepherd.
Prior to Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he commissioned his disciples ‘to feed his sheep’. That is, to take care of the all the people that God has given him. They were to continue his work in the world, to go about giving life to all people. Unfortunately, this divine mission lay in the sand together with their long faces as they contemplated the loss and whereabouts of their daily companion, Jesus. He was the one that inspired them and led them into action. He was the one that gave hope, joy, peace, and love into their life. And now, without Jesus in their life they were sitting in the sand looking bleakly across the sea.
Finally, Peter said to the others, “I’m going out to fish.” They replied, “We’ll go with you.” They returned to what was familiar to them, fishing, hoping to restart their life in some way. That night they caught nothing. And not having caught any fish would have added to their affliction.
The disciples were no different to anyone to day. They were human in every way like you and me. With loss in our life of a loved one, we too can feel and behave like they did, and that is only normal. The loss of a loved one can take many forms. The loss could be: a temporary absence of a friend or neighbour, or grown up children leaving home, or retiring from a place of work, or leaving one school to go to another. The loss can also be severe when love and life is lost. All these events can bring a person down feeling low. Even when things generally aren’t going well in one’s life they can readily darken one’s faith and hope like a thick veil being drawn over one’s eyes.
All is not lost; there is light and hope for everyone.
Let’s return to the poor fishermen on the Lake of Tiberias. Early in the morning, the resurrected Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognise that it was Jesus. There may have been a number of reasons why the disciples did not recognise him. There may have been a veil of morning mist over the water, or perhaps the morning sun was blinding them as it was rising behind the figure of Jesus, or perhaps they simply had tired and bleary eyes from their night’s work and could not recognise that it was Jesus standing before them. Jesus called out to them and they still did not recognise him. For whatever reason physical, spiritual, or just out of grief, the disciples failed to recognise Jesus. That is, they failed to recognise the spirit of the newly resurrected Jesus in his form, the Holy Spirit, God himself manifested in their midst.
We are like the disciples in all their humanness and failings. Whether through the tears of laughter or grief we all fail to recognise the resurrected Jesus in our midst.
The stranger on the beach called out to those in the boat, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” The disciples had been fishing all night, and yet they listened to the voice of a ‘stranger’ and cast the net on the other side of the boat. Unaware to them, they had listened to the voice of the resurrected Jesus. That voice inspired and empowered them to act. To their surprise they caught so many fish that they were unable to haul in the net. The Word of God inspired and empowered the disciples to act in a direction that they themselves may have considered fruitless. Through the Word of God a miracle happened. As a result, the disciples caught a net full of fish.
The advice from the beach came in a form that was practical and relevant to their situation, and that gave life. Jesus knew better than to call out a verse from one of the books of Moses as a means to transform their life or to brighten their morning, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What the disciples needed was to recognise that God loved them and was in their midst caring for them.
Whether or not the disciples knew it at the time of their misery, God continued to work in their lives for good. He also continues to work in our daily life caring for us.
While they were hauling in the net, the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” The event of catching so many unexpected fish, the miracle, finally revealed the identity of the stranger on the shore. The disciple John was first to recognise the hand of God in this event and with excitement cried out, “It is the Lord.” When they arrived back on the shore, Jesus cooked them breakfast.
When we are feeling low and lost, how do we know which direction to take? Which path will lead to life? Who can we trust? Like the disciples, where do we cast our net? These are questions that even faithful Christians ask at times of need. They are difficult questions to answer. But there are some reassurances that give us hope.
Like the disciples and whether they knew it or not God continues to work in our life to bring about good. God can speak to us and comfort us through the word of God, the Bible. Through it, God reveals who he is, that he is a gracious and loving God working to bring about good in peoples lives. Fortunately, he is not bound or restricted by dogmas and doctrines created by the church. God is always free to give help in many and different ways only limited by his imagination.
God often sends people into our troubled life with words of comfort. He also provides help through them that is both practical and relevant. He opens and closes doors to direct us on the path to life. Be reassured that God through the Holy Spirit manifests himself into our troubled life, because he cares for you.
When I conducted by father’s funeral some years ago, during the liturgy I led the congregation into the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer took on a new meaning for me during that time of grief. “Our Father who art in heaven” became words of reassurance. God in his way spoke to me saying, “My father who is in heaven.” For me, that brief and intimate experience with God continues to be an experience of comfort and joy.
When we know that God cares for us, and that he continues to work in our life for good, then we look for him and listen for him in our daily life. Again, when we know that God cares for us, and that he continues to work in our life for good, then we are more inclined to listen to people should God speak through them. Also, we are more inclined to receive help from unexpected quarters, or enter through opened doors that have always been there but never considered.
Like the disciples in the boat who listened to the voice of a ‘stranger’ from the beach, somehow you too will know at the right time where to ‘cast the net.’ At that time, you too will say with joy, “It is the Lord.” Amen.