This is Broiled Fish Sunday.
Jesus must have had lots of fun getting around after his resurrection! He appears suddenly through locked doors; yet he is solid flesh that can be touched. St Paul says that when we finally meet Jesus in person, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. So the risen Jesus can enjoy a piece of broiled fish! I heard of a man who came to faith because of that piece of broiled fish.
When I read a story in the bible like this one, sometimes I like to imagine myself in the scene. It is Sunday evening, the day of the resurrection of Jesus. His disciples are all together, wondering what was going to happen next. (Keep in mind that a disciple is someone who learns from their teacher.)
If we are there, among the 11 disciples, our joy at seeing Jesus is still overlaid with the fresh memory of his terrible death and the extreme grief and disappointment we had afterwards. We thought we had been cheated out of everything we had hoped for.
When Jesus suddenly appears, we join with the others in thinking we are seeing a ghost, not a real, alive human being. As Jesus says, we have doubts and our hearts are troubled. Even on seeing his wounds, we still disbelieve because of joy and amazement.
Jesus does his demonstration with the fish. Then come his final instructions for his friends. He explains how everything previously written in the bible was really about him and had to come true, including his death and resurrection. His disciples are to go and tell people that they can be forgiven. They are to forgive them in his name.
Of all the things Jesus might have said to his disciples during these brief encounters with him in his life beyond death, why does he focus on repentance and forgiveness?
The answer might lie in what was going through Jesus’ mind during those awful hours on the cross, and at the moment of dying, that changed things for ever. We are told in Matthew's gospel that at the moment of Jesus' death the curtain of the temple was ripped from top to bottom. This was the curtain which separated the most sacred part of the temple, where God made his presence known, and which could only be entered once a year by the high priest.
This curtain barrier was thrown open at the moment of Jesus’ death. It let everyone know that his death had opened the way for all people to approach God’s presence, not just once a year through the high priest, but for all time.
Why do we need to approach God through Jesus? The real barrier that separates us from God is sin. Sin is the things we do wrong, yes. However, if you are like me, most of us will think we are not really such bad people. We don't steal, we haven’t killed anyone lately. So what's the problem? Sin is much more than that: it is our insistence that we can manage on our own without God. We have turned our backs on our Creator. We don’t acknowledge him as our Father in heaven.
Jesus was referring to this burden of separation from God because of sin when he said:
Mt 11: 28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.
Jesus is saying we don’t just have need of his forgiveness. There is more. He wants us to learn from him, he wants us to become his disciple-learners just as the 12 were his disciple-learners. In Jesus’ forgiveness all the old rubbish is cleared out so we can make room for the new. What is new is everything Jesus wants to teach us about his kingdom.
So this was what concerned Jesus in that brief time he had with them during the days after his resurrection. But it was also all part of God’s incredible desire that all humanity might come to know their true freedom and new life in Jesus.
How was Jesus going to see that the message got out? He was going back to his Father. His good news of freedom through forgiveness had to be proclaimed to all the earth. Who was going to take up the task? There were only 11 disciple-learners in that room with him.
At this point Jesus revealed that it was going to be a joint project. The witnesses to Jesus, those disciple-learners who had been with him for three years and had heard his teaching, had seen what he did, and had tried it themselves – these he was entrusting with God’s great plan for the healing of humanity.
The starting place would be Jerusalem. Jesus was going to use as his agents the bolshy fisherman Peter, who had denied that he knew him; he was going to use the two Zebedee brothers James and John, the ones with the pushy mother who wanted her sons to have special positions of power; he was going to use all the rest of the 11 who had deserted him on the night of his arrest in the garden. These were to be his apostles, his chosen sent ones.
How could this impossible mission possibly work? It was going to be a joint project. They were not to try anything in their own strength. They were to wait in the city until they would be clothed with power from on high. The other partner in this joint project was yet to be revealed.
That was all well and good for the first generation of Christians. What about subsequent generations? Jesus’ disciples, his learners, were to go and make learners. And those learners were to go and make learners, all with the help and strength of the power from on high. And those learners were to make more learners, and so on, until Jesus returns.
Our churches are organised around professional Christians like me. It was not so in the beginning. We need to recover more of the amateur spirit, with all of us working together. We also need to recover the skills for making learners, and recognising that we too are learners.
I hope that we might do more exploring of this process of learning together in the coming months, as we begin to give shape to our parish mission action plan. For now we rest secure in Jesus' promise that we will be given power from on high to be his learners and engage in his mission.