The quality of knowing

Frances writes on the readings this coming weekend :- There can be degrees of knowing something and this is what we see in our gospel, (John 21:1-19). Previously the disciples had met the risen Christ twice, once when he revealed himself to them and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive or retain sins, and on the second occasion when Thomas was convinced of the resurrection by the Lord’s insistence that he touch his wounded body; (last week’s gospel). But despite these wonderful meetings with the risen Christ the disciples didn’t seem to ‘do’ much with their knowledge of the resurrection; for we next meet them by the Sea of Galilee and Simon Peter’s proposal to go fishing, a scene remarkably reminiscent of Luke 5 and the call of the disciples, and in his gospel placed early in the story of Jesus’ earthly mission which John was clearly developing in this scene. John places the development of the ‘knowing’ of the disciples in both in the security of the old and familiar, a return to the past, their former jobs and also in a picture of the remaking of the chief disciple and his colleagues, all in fact who as yet do not know how to make use of their knowledge of the risen Lord.

The abundance of the catch immediately alerts us; as it did the disciples, to the eschatological overflowing of riches: the sign of the messiah and the full reign of the kingdom of God. As part of this it triggers a move to penitence and confession of fault on the part of Peter whose threefold denial of Christ during his passion was so devastating. John, that master craftsman of his material, does not resort to beating of breasts or grovelling public apology, but achieves the remission of Peter’s sin in a beautiful reflection of the story of the Fall and the meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death. Peter ‘falls’ because he is part of unredeemed humanity now redeemed. In the Garden of Eden, you will remember that the ‘naked and unashamed’ Adam and Eve, guilty of eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge hide their nakedness and self-awareness – signs of lost innocence, by wearing fig leaves. Here, at Tiberias, Peter, who is near naked and fishing, clothes himself and jumps into the water to go and meet the Lord he had previously and disastrously denied. We should not forget the other gospels picture of general desertion either. After the meal we are told of Jesus three fold questioning of Peter – ‘Do you love me? Surely here his knowing of his Lord is pushed to its limits, followed by ‘Feed my sheep’, in answer to Peter’s affirmative. I think we should see this threefold play on words as a developing of Peter’s faith, and a growing awareness of its meaning. Following this, Jesus speaks of Peter’s future and the death he will ultimately undergo, and this time it appears the disciple got the message and was willing to comply; his ‘knowing’ has now developed and will ultimately take him out as a missionary for Christ and his death by crucifixion in Rome.

Our reading from Acts, (5:27-32, 40-41) illustrates the development of the understanding of the disciples and their response, and what a transformation it was! They were willing to speak out boldly for Christ in the heart of Jerusalem and face the animosity of the Temple authorities and Sanhedrin and because of their faith in him and his resurrection were willing if necessary to suffer in his cause. They have made a critical distinction between obedience to the words of men and that of the Word of God and speak under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they had previously received.

By the time we come to the reading from the Apocalypse, (5:11-14, we begin to experience a far greater development of the faith, as witnessed in the prayer life of the EarlyChurch and their vision of God. Here we see that the final object of our faith is adoration. To the One who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honour, glory and power, for ever and ever. Here surely we are witnessing to a highly developed theology of both Incarnation and Trinity. The ‘knowing’ of the disciples and their descendants has grown enormously since those first timid Easter experiences and is clearly an on going task for all of us.

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