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APRIL 22, 2007: Third Sunday of Easter


Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Hans Walter Wolff often reminded us that Scripture teaches proper obedience and proper disobedience: obedience to the word of God; disobedience to those who would lead us away from that word.

Though this Lutheran scholar never had Luke in any of his classes, I take for granted when the two finally met in heaven ten years ago they had a terrific time comparing notes. Luke presumes all disciples of Jesus are influenced by the scriptural principle Wolff surfaced. That's why, early in his second volume, he describes an encounter between the apostles and the Jerusalem Sanhedrin.

"We gave you strict orders," the high priest proclaims, "to stop teaching in that name." Peter and the apostles' response is immediate and to the point. "We must obey God rather than men."

Luke constantly points out that such obedience always brings suffering and pain. This seems to be why he grounds the apostles' faithful witnessing in the Holy Spirit, the force both motivating and strengthening them.

Luke's ideal reaction to any oppressor's prohibition to preach the word is disobedience. "They left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name."

Students of the book of Revelation agree that the community to which the writing was originally directed was also suffering dishonor for the sake of the name. Almost all apocalyptic literature is composed in the midst of persecution, during those periods when the faithful are tempted to believe God doesn't give a darn about them and their situation.

The scene the sacred author paints is meant to strengthen his reader's belief in Jesus' power in their lives. Yet at the same time, he includes one phrase which ties Jesus into their own suffering. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain . . . ." The glory which permeates the vision is only possible because Jesus achieved it by enduring suffering and death.

John treats the same topic at the end of today's gospel passage. Jesus warns Peter, "When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

It's interesting to reflect on the scriptural context of this warning. Johannine scholars are convinced this chapter is a later addition to John's original gospel. Yet they also believe it contains one of the earliest accounts we possess of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus.

The seven disciples seem to have had no prior encounter with the "new-creation" Jesus. After their disastrous Jerusalem Passover pilgrimage, they simply return to Capernaum and hang out, depressed, knowing he's dead, but reluctant to go back to what they did before he entered their lives, else they'd have to come face to face with the reality of his death.

Though the late Elizabeth Kubler Ross frequently claimed she wasn't a religious individual, she would have loved this passage. She always reminded her audiences that we only deal correctly with a loved one's death after we painfully decide to "go back to work."

The seven are fishermen. When Peter says, "I'm going fishing!" he's not talking about taking a day off. He's saying, "I'm going back to fishing!" In other words, "Jesus is really dead, and so are the dreams he taught us to believe in." Ironically, only when Peter does something which seals his belief in Jesus' death does he discover him alive in his life in a new way.

If we commit ourselves to the obedience/disobedience format of Jesus and our sacred authors, and accept the suffering and death coming from such a commitment, we'll also step into a life we could never have imagined; the life which Jesus' faithful obedience and disobedience opened for him.