October 5, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Join with me in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2.3-4)
And wonder if the “suffering” which Paul speaks to Timothy about is the call to spiritual, purposeful angst concerning the future of those who refuse to understand and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. As mighty ones of God and followers of the way of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, we ought to feel the burden of knowing that many will turn away from the truth and many more will not accept it. Knowing that information should not convince us then to lose hope in sharing the gospel to others so that some may be redeemed and blessed with the fulfilled promise of eternal life. Who are we to decide who shall be welcomed in and who will fall into the shadows of the valley of death to dwell there for eternity? Since we do not know who then can be saved, then we must operate under the compulsion of sharing the good news with every person. Some may point to the parable of the soils as the talking point for the compulsion. In that parable, Jesus speaks of the farmer who went to sow seed with the hope of harvest. But, he acted without regard to the soil on which the seed fell. They may say that the farmer was foolish and a poor steward of the resource of the seed. Others may see the opportunistic and hopeful attitude of the farmer who trusted in the seed. We may even imagine that the farmer lacked the resource to clear the field for plowing and cultivating thus providing a more adequate soil for reaping a greater harvest. Without a physical, tangible resource other than the seed, the farmer put his faith into action believing in the One who made the seed to be shared with the world. The result, as Jesus pointed out, was that in the place where it could grow the seed did so in great abundance as much as a hundred fold. Such abundance compensated for the lack of harvest in the soils which would not receive the seed or “turned” it away.
With that in mind, I would point to the story of the miraculous catch of one hundred fifty-three fish at Jesus’ command. Peter and the others had fished fruitlessly all night. They had employed all their fishing expertise and equipment to the best of their knowledge and ability. They fished to no avail. Yet, when Jesus commanded them to throw their nets “on the other side of the boat,” the result was beyond their belief, imagination and nearly their ability to bring in such an abundant “harvest.”
I would draw our attention first to the situation and condition of the fishermen. Since we hear this story at the end of John’s gospel, for us it is chapter 21, we know that it is post-resurrection and by assertion nearing the time for Jesus to leave to be with His Father in Heaven. Following Luke’s timeline, this would have come at the end of Jesus’ forty day sojourn with the disciples following His resurrection. It was not yet the fifty days when the celebration of “first fruits” would be recognized in the Temple by those seeking blessing for a bountiful harvest. We know from John’s recollection, not all eleven disciples were present at this seaside appearance of Jesus. This would have been one of those “retreats” to sort through things and escape from the world. The fishermen, and those who learned the benefit of fishing for the soul among the disciples, had chosen to return to the sea. This is where Jesus found them. More importantly, this is where Jesus found Peter whom He had promised to make “a fisher of humankind.” In spite of all that had transpired in those forty days, Peter still felt the angst of his failure to “stand by his MAN of God.” He turned to fishing but fishing turned to nothing. Was this an indicator of how Peter perceived himself and his future?
I would then draw your attention to the command of Christ as an indicator of the efforts of the fishermen to catch fish. Did they truly intend to catch fish that night or were they just attempting to get away from it all? Know that the kind of fishing done in the Sea of Galilee was far more strenuous than baiting a hook and dropping a line in the water. They were not trolling with a lure behind the boat on a surface or deep rigger configuration. They had to sail out into the water. If there was no wind for the sails, then they rowed out into the lake. They fished at night. This fact would require them to light and tend lanterns not only to see the water but to attract fish to the light as bugs and bait fish would be found then at the surface of the water. They also had to navigate their way to the best places where they knew fish would be found which required a keen eye to land and sky. They had no fish-finding equipment or depth-finding equipment. They would have to pay attention to the world around them. They would have to cast their nets across the face of the deep and then draw them back in. Working in tandem, they may have dropped a net into the water between the boats and took a sweeping arc to create a circle. Once closing the circle they would draw the net up and empty it of its catch. They would repeat the practice any number of times. This was hard work. It was harder work if your heart wasn’t in it. They may have been going through the motions on this fishing trip but the lack of success must have been as much on their mind as were the thoughts about their future as disciples of Jesus the Christ. What did Jesus say? Looking from His vantage point on a rise of the beach or from a rocky prominence, Jesus called out to them “Cast your nets on the other side if you want to catch some fish.” They didn’t know it was Jesus but they followed the advice anyway. And it was not merely a directional throw but a “good” throw. Jesus directed them to the “right” side of the boat as the “other” side. In the words of noted journalist Paul Harvey, “there is a rest of the story.” It would seem that the disciples had only fished one side of their boats. They limited their opportunity and thus limited what fish they would have caught. They had eyes to see but could not see. Fortunately, they had ears to hear and followed the words of the Man standing on the rock. They put their “faith” in His word. One cast of the net and it filled with such a catch that it nearly swamped their boats.
Then I would draw your attention to the catch itself. Some have attempted to make a deep message out of the number of fish caught- 153. I read where all types of associations with that number were highlighted but no one would know for sure if there was some secret message there or not. What is known is that there were 153 large fish. So large and so great was the catch that under “normal” circumstances their net, or nets, would have broken and the fish escaped. We don’t even know if all the fish were even edible or not. It was a great collection of fish. Out of that catch only a few were brought to Jesus who had built a fire now reduced to coals at the right temperature for cooking fish. I tend to read this story with a bit of apocalyptic and eschatological nuance; even prophetic. Following the command of Jesus to His fishers of men, the disciples reaped a great harvest. Transitioning to the “Gospel of the Church- The Acts of the Apostles” what do we find but that large numbers of people were added daily to the community of faith in Christ. We also know from other teachings of Jesus concerning the harvest, that both the wheat and the weeds (or tares as they may have been called) were gathered up together. Then they were separated so as not to damage the good fruit of the harvest, the wheat. It sounds much like the separating of the sheep from the goats by the Good Shepherd who sits on the Throne of Judgment on those last days. It would seem that without a true heart for fishing the disciples limited their effect and their impact. The same could be said of their discipleship and that was not what Jesus intended for nor expected from them. It was not what the disciples expected either as their had declared themselves to be followers of the Way which was Christ their Lord.
Then, I would bring us back to the passage of scripture for reflection today found in one of Paul’s letters to Timothy. He continues to urge Timothy to suffer for the sake of the gospel as we looked at in what is
chapter one of Second Timothy. But now, Paul urges Timothy to think of being under command as a soldier in the Lord’s Army. “Suffering” in this context propels our thought to the objective. As soldiers we are under command, submission to the order, by which we pledged ourselves into service. It required effort of preparing one’s heart, mind, body and determination to accomplish the mission which would be given to us. It also indicated that some losses may be suffered in order to achieve victory in the objective placed before us. Paul also reminds Timothy that “civilian affairs” should not be influential in fulfilling one’s order from the commanding officer. The service to which the soldier is pledged is objectively focused and not subjectively determined. But, victory was the primary goal and that goal is to defeat the enemy either by conversion, their surrender, or by elimination, their worldly defeat. The ministry of love is not always soft and cuddly, timid and entitling or apathetic and disengaged. The ministry of love includes firmness, definition and a passion for what is right, good and honorable in the sight of God. The ultimate allegiance is to the cause of the Commanding Officer. Such allegiance comes with a price and if we are to be soldiers in the army of Christ, there will be suffering. But, such suffering will never outweigh nor overcome the blessing which will be the final result. Yes, on the final battlefield, lives will be lost for the sake of the gospel but they will be gathered up like seed on the hard road or pathway. Some lives will be lost because the gospel was forsaken and they withered up and died. We are sorrow-filled for those who will refuse and lose. Our goal is to promote the gospel and bring in the harvest of all who will believe. We dare not exhibit an effort that says “lives can be expendable and lost because I will not give my best effort.”
God, You have given us Your very best to fulfill all righteousness and give Your people every opportunity to return to You and live forever in Your loving presence. Now, we pledge to give the same so that many more in the world will hear the “great commands” and know that Your desire is for their good as it is for Your glory. We come and go at the command of Jesus our Christ. AMEN.