Recorded in the epilogue of John’s gospel is an account of the risen Jesus’ meeting with his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is written at the same time that Christians are living difficult moments of trial and persecution: some are renouncing their faith. The narrator wants to rekindle the faith of his readers. Night is approaching and the disciples go out to fish. The Twelve are not there. The group broke up at their Teacher’s crucifixion. They are again with their boats and nets, which they had left behind to follow Jesus. Everything has ended. They are alone once again.
Fishing turns out a complete failure. The narrator underscores it strongly: “So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” They are returning with empty nets. Is not this the experience of many Christian communities that see how weakened are their strength and their capacity to evangelize?
Frequently, our efforts in the midst of an indifferent society hardly get results. We too verify that our nets are empty. The temptation to discouragement and hopelessness comes easy. How do we sustain and revive our faith?
In this context of failure, the account says that “when it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore.” From the boat, however, the disciples do not recognize him. Maybe it is the distance, perhaps it is the dawn mist, and, above all, their saddened hearts that hinder them from seeing him. Jesus is speaking to them, but “they did not realize that it was Jesus.”
Is not this one of the most harmful effects of the religious crisis that we are painfully going through? Worried about surviving, our weakness becoming increasingly evident, it does not turn out easy for us to recognize the presence of the risen Jesus among us, who speaks out of the Gospel and feeds us at the celebration of the Eucharistic supper.
Jesus’ most beloved disciple is the first to recognize him: “It is the Lord.” They are not alone. Everything can begin anew. Everything can be different. Humbly but with faith, Peter will acknowledge his sin and confess his sincere love for Jesus: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” The rest of the disciples cannot feel otherwise.
We need witnesses to Jesus in our Christian groups and communities. We need believers who, with their lives and their words, will help us discover in these moments the living presence of Jesus in the midst of our experience of failure and fragility. We Christians will get out of this crisis by increasing our trust in Jesus. We do not have the capacity today to imagine his power to get us out of discouragement and hopelessness.
José Antonio Pagola
April 14, 2013
3 Easter (C)