John 21:1-19 Mother’s Day
Today is Mother’s Day. A day set-aside to honor our mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! But, in recent years, I’ve started expanding this celebration to include aunts, grandmas, or any woman who has stepped-up to nurture young people along the way. I started this because it’s become apparent to me that the configuration, the very definition of what it means to “be a family” family has changed, evolved. The “basic family unit” doesn’t always consist of a mom, a dad, 2.3 children, and a golden retriever. In many cases, family doesn’t have anything to do with blood relationships at all. Rather, family often consists of people there for each other through thick and thin. It’s not my place to judge this reality, simply to recognize it and honor it.
So, it’s with this expanded understanding of family that we celebrate Mother’s Day, and, interestingly enough, this broad definition of family also makes its way into the story that we have before us today. This resurrection appearance narrative from the end of John’s Gospel is commonly called the “Breakfast by the Sea.” And, as I indicated before, there’s a whole lot more going here than just breakfast.
First the obvious. Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times in the fear and darkness of Good Friday. But here, in the light of morning, in this intimate seaside setting, Peter is forgiven with a three-fold assurance of restoration. But notice something here, after each reassertion of the question comes a call to action: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” Peter’s charge is to put his love for Jesus into swift, concrete action.
That’s the obvious connection to the rest of John’s narrative, but there’s also a less obvious, more subtle, sub-text as well. This threefold act of forgiveness and subsequent charge to feed and tend humanity isn’t disconnected from the previous story. Let’s look at the sequence of events that led up to Peter’s conversation with Jesus. The disciples had gone back to their livelihood, fishing. Jesus appeared on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him. He gave them a command to “cast their nets into deeper water” and when they complied, the disciples witnessed a miracle of abundance. They recognized Jesus in that moment. He then immediately served them a breakfast of fish and bread.
Lets’ see. Where have we seen a miracle of abundance using fish and loves before? Yep. The feeding of the 5,000. We’re also reminded in our context of communion, right? But it goes even deeper than that! We, like the disciples of old, often miss Jesus in our midst. After we leave worship we go back to our livelihood, we go back to our beach, even when we’ve had a life-changing, perspective-altering experience of the divine, at some point, we must go back to our routine. And you know what, that’s alright.
The deeper lesson here, however, is to incorporate our experience of the divine, our moments of recognition, into our everyday lives. How? By symbolically casting our nets into deeper waters; by loving all of God’s people and by tending the blessing of this beautiful creation. A love, as I said before, that’s expressed through action. How do we know this? Because both of the Greek words interpreted as “love” in today’s text are verbs. Agape, God’s unconditional love, and Phillios, humanity’s love for one another, are both actions words. So, Peter literally says, “Yes Love, you know that I am loving you.” To which Jesus responds in essence, “then go and love my lambs in the same way.” This is important! It’s important because this is our charge as people of faith. We are called and challenged both as individuals and as a community to seek out and incorporate new and innovate ways to love. Which brings us back around, full circle, to this idea of an expanded definition of family.
You know, I was given a glimpse this week of this very thing from a most unexpected source. Manny. I was in the kitchen doing something and Manny was in the living room playing Fortnite with his friends. I think need to pause here for a little explanation before I go on. If you’ve been to our house, you know that the kitchen and the living room are really the same room, so it was easy to hear what he was saying. And when I say playing Fortnite with his friends, you need to understand that he was on his Nintendo Switch with headphones on so he could communicate with the other players. Okay. So, here I am in the kitchen/living room, when I hear Manny say, “Don’t shoot my family!” Now, to a non-gamer like me, that was a little bit disturbing and demanded an explanation. Well, it turns out that Becky and I were not under threat, but rather that Manny considered his friends from school, who were on his team, family.
Isn’t that interesting? The configuration of family can come in countless ways. On the shore of the Tiberius Sea, over two thousand years ago, Jesus served his family breakfast. Not his mother or his brothers, but those who had been with him on the journey. He then sent them out with a charge to treat, dare I say “consider,” all of his lambs, all of his sheep, all of humanity as family.
I mean, what if I were to expand my definition of family to include all of you. That’s not a huge stretch of the imagination. Traditionally, church folks have referred to each other as sister or brother. But what about those beyond our congregation? What if I were to consider a Catholic priest as my brother? Or a Jewish Rabbi? Or a Muslim Imam? Might my perspective on the world change, dare I say for the better? What if I were to consider a woman who’s struggling to feed her four children, four children from four different, broken relationships as my sister? Might I then have more compassion for her situation? What if I were to consider a veteran living on the streets because his untreated PTSD as my brother? Might I then find my voice and demand change? What if I were to consider a lonely woman living out her days lost in the confusion of dementia as my grandmother? Might I be moved to visit her? What if I were to consider all those innocent children being “detained” on our Southern border as my own children? Might I then be moved to demand justice?
Do you see what I’m driving at here? When we consider another person, any person, as family, we’re far less likely to write them off, or to ignore their suffering, or to hate them because their different.
My friends, Jesus is saying to each of us, “do you love me?” And when we love our neighbor, when we love the least of God’s lambs, and when we find a way to love those who society considers unlovable, to forgive as we have been forgiven, and when we act to demonstrate that love; we are answering the call with a resounding, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
This is my prayer for all of us.
Happy Mother’s Day and Amen.