How does the Risen Lord Jesus open our eyes today so that we may become fishermen--fishers of people--and ambassadors of the Gospel of Christ?
The miraculous life of Jesus in turning around the lives of Saint Paul and Saint Peter gives us cause for thought and prayer and for hope and rejoicing. We remember that the zealous Pharisee Saul was so determined to persecute the first followers of the Risen Christ that he pursued women as well as men, and he headed for Syria from Jerusalem lest he miss anyone. He was in no mood for conversion. Then the Risen Lord Jesus opened his eyes to the new way--the new life.
I am helped by New Testament Scholar Paul Holloway of the School of Theology at Sewanee to see that Saul was not converted from being a bad Jew to being a good Christian; he was converted by God's grace from being a zealous Jew to being a zealous apostle of Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike. His eyes were opened on the road to Damascus.
Having been blinded by the light, he was sent into the city to wait; and after waiting on the Spirit to be given new eyes of faith, new eyes of the heart, so as to see those he knew well in a new light. He was transformed from being an enemy of the fledgling church; in baptism he became a member of the new community of faith. Paul was enabled to see himself through the eyes of Christ, and so he was able to see his fellow Jews in a new light. He was able to see the people of the Gentiles--Greeks, Romans, Syrians, people not so different from you and me--in a new light. To us Saint Paul comes, opening our eyes to the wonder of life in Christ.
Women and men in the first century were called by Paul into this ministry of reconciliation, and through Paul our Lord Jesus calls us to be ambassadors of the Good News as well. Paul remained himself after his conversion--but he was a better self, being formed into the image of Christ. So too we remain ourselves--even as we are being formed into the children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, seeing the world through his eyes of love and creativity.
We have another example of conversion in today's Gospel reading.
What do we do when we don't know what to do? What do we do when it is time to wait upon the Lord? Sometimes we do what we know how to do. We do what is familiar. We do what we can do, while waiting to take the next step on our spiritual journey.
Simon Peter the fisherman did not know what to do in the first days after Jesus had been raised from the grave that first Easter. After a while, he and some others did what they knew how to do--or at least what was familiar to them. We catch up with their story: "Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said..."I'm going fishing." They said..."We'll go with you."
Simon Peter and James and John, the sons of Thunder, and the Beloved Disciple and the others pile into boats and fish all night. They do what they can do while waiting.
What did they catch? Nuthin'. They were uninspired and empty-handed.
Day breaks. A voice calls from the shore. They are sent out again, to cast their nets a bit differently. Two miracles come among them: First, they catch so many fish--all kinds of fish--that their nets are straining, their boats are in danger of being swamped. Secondly, they are invited to the first Christian men's breakfast. Jesus himself invites them to come ashore and join him in a fish fry--a holy meal of shared fish at the water's edge. It reminds us of that earlier holy meal on a hillside, a meal in which thousands of men and women and children are fed from a few loaves and fishes, blessed. It might remind us of a heavenly meal.
And then another miracle unfolds, another revelation comes:
Simon Peter, Petros, Rocky, the hard-headed fisherman, is forgiven three times by the Lord whom he had three times denied so recently. And three times he is invited to profess his love of Jesus. He is empowered to forgive himself. Three times he is commissioned to be not only a fisher of men--now he is also empowered and inspired and equipped to be a shepherd, with Jesus.
"Lord, you know everything," the fisherman says, "you now that I love you." " Good ," Jesus says, "follow me and feed my sheep--including sheep you don't even know of yet."
What of us?
Sometimes we are sent into the city to wait and then our eyes are opened and our prejudices are stripped away, like scales from before our eyes. Then we are sent out to open the eyes of others to the love of God in Christ.
Sometimes we go to the beach, to the seashore, to wade in familiar waters or to wonder what's next. We see again that the church casts a wide net, a resilient net, a net fashioned to draw in all sorts and conditions of people--all under our Lord's guidance in the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Do you love me?" Jesus whispers.
"Come with me."
Come with me and then go to those you used to see as strange--
go even to those you have seen as enemies.
Go in my name, the Risen Christ says,
and your eyes will be opened again and again.
Let us pray. O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread and in the nets filled with a catch of all kinds of fish and who revealed himself on the road to Damascus and who reveals himself on mountaintop and hillside, city and shore: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work, and may join him in fishing, in welcoming, and in shepherding his people--the people he calls--all people, all God's children. Amen.