In the epilogue of John’s Gospel, we find an account of the meeting between the resurrected Jesus and his disciples on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. When this epilogue was being redacted, the early Christians were living through difficult times of testing and persecution: some abandon their faith. The narrator wants to bring his readers’ faith back to life.
Night falls and the disciples go out fishing. These aren’t the Twelve. That group has broken apart when their Master was crucified. They’re back with the boats and nets that they had left behind to follow Jesus. It’s all over. They’re alone again.
The fishing has been a total disaster. The narrator underlines it forcefully: «They went out, got into the boat, but caught nothing that night». They’re coming back with empty nets. Isn’t this the experience of all too many Christian communities who see how weak their efforts and evangelizing capabilities are?
Very often our efforts in the midst of an indifferent society barely go anywhere. We also can attest that our nets are empty. It’s easy to be tempted by discouragement and hopelessness. How to sustain and resuscitate our faith?
In this context of failure, the account says that «it was just dawning when Jesus stood there on the shore». However the disciples don’t recognize him from their boat. Maybe it’s the distance, maybe the mist of the dawn, and above all their saddened hearts that keep them from seeing him. Jesus speaks to them, but “they did not realize that it was Jesus”.
Isn’t this one of the most harmful effects of the religious crisis that we’re going through? Worried about surviving, facing our weakness at every turn, it’s hard to recognize the presence of the resurrected Jesus among us, the Jesus who speaks to us from the Gospel and who feeds us in the celebration of the Eucharistic meal.
It is the disciple most beloved by Jesus who is the first to recognize him: «It’s the Lord!». They aren’t alone. Everything can begin again. Everything can be different. Humbly but faithfully Peter will acknowledge his sin and confess his sincere love to Jesus: «Lord, you know that I love you». The other disciples can’t help but feel the same.
In our groups and our Christian communities we need witnesses of Jesus: believers who by their life and their word help us to discover in our times the living presence of Jesus in the midst of our experience of failure and weakness. We Christians will come out of this crisis as we grow in our confidence in Jesus. Sometimes we aren’t capable of imagining how strong he is to pull us out of discouragement and hopelessness.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf