More Than a Meal

Micah 6:8; Psalm 130:1-4; John 21:1-14
Rev. Dr. Louise Barger

Having a meal has always been intended to be more than just eating food.

In many eastern countries there is a very large dish of food prepared and set in the middle of the family group. All the members of the family and their guests use flat bread to pick up bites of food and all eat from the same dish. Eating is leisurely and as they eat they exchange stories of history and stories of the events of the day. Eating is a social occasion.

There was a time, long ago, when every member of the family was expected to be at the dinner table at the same time and much of the same kind of conversation happened among families. Some of that family time, that social time, broke down in our western culture when we invented the TV tray and the TV dinner so that instead of talking to one another around the table we could sit in front of the television and be entertained while we ate. When school and community sports activities began to demand the presence of our children on evenings and weekends, even on Sundays, we invented a place for them to eat on stools at an island in the kitchen. They could eat quickly before their parents and be gone to their activities before the parents sat down to eat. All of this has been a great loss to conversation and communication back and forth between members of the family. We have lost an opportunity to share important information of all kinds.

There are many recorded stories of Jesus having a meal with all kinds of people. The Pharisees would ridicule Him by saying that He ate with sinners. The conversations at those meals must have included many of the things that Jesus said publicly in his teaching. I think that Jesus would have listened carefully to their questions and answered them. I think that Jesus would have respected them as created by God. Wouldn’t we love to hear the conversations that happened at those meals?

A meal with Jesus was always about more than eating food. It certainly was on that morning on the seashore. This morning was one week after the resurrection. We find Jesus, just as dawn breaks, cooking a meal of fish and bread over a little fire on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Out on the sea, working on a commercial fishing boat owned by Peter, the disciples have toiled all night. Strangely, their net has caught no fish. Peter knows that Jesus is alive again, but I think that Peter has neither asked forgiveness for denying three times that he knew Jesus nor has Peter forgiven himself. Peter knows how to fish. He had a fishing business before he was invited by Jesus to become a fisher of men. I think that Peter could not bring himself to believe that he could be forgiven so he had just decided to go back to doing something that he knew.

To the credit of the other disciples, they would not let him go alone. They would be there with Peter. So they have spent the night fishing and when the Man on the shore calls out to ask if they have caught any fish, they reply with frustration that they have worked all night for nothing. They have let down into the water a large net and then have drug it behind the boat hoping, to no avail, to fill it with fish.

The Man on the shore calls out to them, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will catch some fish.” There was probably some discussion among them. They are the professional fishermen. That’s not how you fish. But they need a catch, so they do as the Man suggests. The net is so filled with fish that they cannot haul it into the boat but must drag it in the water to shore.

As the boat nears the shore, John turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord!” The disciples have stripped down while they were working. Peter, in his desire to be appropriately clothed to meet Jesus, puts on his clothes, and as they near the shore Peter jumps off the boat and makes his way through the water to where Jesus is on the shore. Peter is impetuous if he is anything.

When all of them in the boat arrive at shore, Jesus invites them to bring some of their catch and contribute it to the meal. Jesus breaks bread and gives it to his disciples and then gives them some of the fish. It is reminiscent of the last meal that Jesus had with them before the crucifixion. The fellowship of the meal confirms the intimacy of the relationship between the risen Lord and the disciples.

But this is only the surface of the story, the part that is clearly visible for the reading. Behind the story is a time of real crisis.

  • Jesus had died.
  • Jesus is alive again.
  • Jesus will soon return to heaven.
  • Jesus has come to earth to begin a mission that must be completed by people when He leaves.
  • Jesus is depending on these disciples to see that this mission continues.

If the disciples go back to their former trade and fail to follow through on their commitment to the mission of Jesus,

  • the Church will never come into being,
  • we would never have heard anything about this Jesus who died for us.

Peter, whom Jesus had called a “rock” had crumbled under the pressure of the possibility of losing his life at the time of the trial of Jesus. Peter has been the leader of the disciples and now he and all of them seem to not have a clear vision of what they will need to do.

After their breakfast, Jesus and Peter have some divine business to do. I think that Jesus probably invited Peter to go for a walk along the shore so that they could talk privately. Peter must have trembled inside when that invitation was extended. Would Jesus condemn him? Jesus was always talking about forgiveness. Was it possible that Jesus would forgive him for his weakness and his failure? They have had no private conversations since that awful night when Peter denied knowing Jesus.

That walk down the beach becomes a walk of redemption for Peter. No condemnation. Just a question. And what a question! No mention of Peter’s failure. Just a question. “Peter, do you love Me?” Because, Peter, if you love Me, I have some work for you to do.

  • Peter, you need to care for the mature and the immature in the faith.
  • Peter, you need to spiritually feed them on the knowledge and the understanding that you have of Me.
  • Peter, do you love Me enough to do that?

“Peter, do you love Me?”

Three times Jesus asks the question, some believe that once for each time that Peter denied Jesus.

Finally, in response to the last time that he is asked, Peter responds, “Lord, You know everything about me, but I do love You.”

It is a moment of redemption, but it is also a moment of teaching. If Peter is to be the leader that Jesus needs him to be, Peter

  • must admit that he is not perfect,
  • realize that sometimes he isn’t all that even he wishes he were
  • believe that Jesus knows that Peter is a person of worth, and significance, and value.

Peter must forgive himself so that he can move ahead to be the leader of this new creation called the Church. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who watches over all of us, but Peter is needed to be a shepherd who will spread abroad the Good News and care for new believers after Jesus returns to heaven. Otherwise, the people, the sheep, who already follow Jesus will be scattered, having no shepherd.

Peter accepted the forgiveness, the redemption, of Jesus. Peter followed the teaching of Jesus. Peter became the person that Jesus needed him to become.

One more word comes to Peter from Jesus. It is a foretelling of how Peter’s life will end. Peter will die as a martyr for the faith that he teaches. We know that Peter was crucified by Rome as a troublemaker. Peter chose to be crucified upside down because he considered himself not to be worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.

Now the question comes to us. Jesus asks each one of us, “Do you love Me?” Now the question comes to the Church. Jesus asks each congregation, “Do you love Me?” If we do love Him, we have an awesome responsibility in this world in which we now live.

Our world is in crisis. Our nation has challenges that it has not dealt with in hundreds of years. Much as it was in the time of Jesus, people are thinking of things spiritual, but they know little or nothing about Jesus, much less having a personal relationship with Him.

Any one of us usually builds a relationship with people who care about us as individuals, people who believe that we are worthy of a relationship.

The prophet Micah gave us a good beginning for action as individuals and as a congregation.

  • Do justice – for everyone equally. In our world, in our nation there is plenty of injustice that needs to be spoken against and action taken.
  • Love everyone with kind hearts. – Love the unlovely as well as those we consider worthy of our love
  • Walk through our days with humble hearts, demonstrating to all our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Live with humility, doing what needs to be done for the good of all.

Do you love Me?

Tend my sheep – watch after them; don’t let them wander away and get lost. We must watch after one another; know where one another is; know how one another is doing. It is the responsibility of each of us.

Do you love Me?

Shepherd My sheep – protect one another. Even as Covid wanes, don’t let one another get isolated or forgotten.

Do you love Me?

Tend My sheep – disciple My sheep; teach My sheep. Don’t stay where you are in your knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. Don’t stay where you are in what those teachings mean for you today.

It requires study, even as adults who have been in the church for years. We never will know all that there is to know from God’s Word.

We are called to remain steadfast in our faith and to be messengers of that faith to all who have not yet been introduced to Jesus.

The invitation reads: “You are cordially invited to join Jesus for a meal each day.”

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Take some time each day to have a meal with Jesus.

Amen.