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Courage for the Living of These Days
In a resurrection appearance to the disciples, Jesus sets an example.

Shortly after their Teacher died, we find some of the students heading back home. They return to their fishing boats.  But as we find them they are not having much luck. They have labored all through the night, casting their nets, putting out their lines, rowing their boat back and forth along the shore. But still, at dawn the nets are empty. Not only have they lost the one who brought meaning to their lives, now they seem to have lost their luck at fishing as well. Then, as the sun peers over the horizon, they see a lone figure standing on the shore. The man signals to them; he seems to be teasing, "Hey, there, you in the boat! Children! Haven't you caught any fish? Why not try casting your nets to the starboard and see what happens!"

(For the full text of this story.)

Is it out of desperation, or merely to prove this arrogant stranger wrong that they cast their nets once more, on the starboard side? As it sinks beneath the silver, gray waters of the sea, suddenly it is alive with fish! The disciples spring to action, pulling with all their strength as the water swirls with life. The load of fish is so great that even these fishermen are not able to bring that net back into the boat.

Then, as their lines are being secured, they look again at the man on the beach. Suddenly they recognize Jesus. It's him! On the beach Jesus has prepared a charcoal fire. He has fresh bread warmed and waiting and he roasts them some fish in the fire. Jesus has prepared a warm welcome for his friends. And in the breaking of the bread, they recognize him.

Not surprisingly, some commentators have seized upon the curious fact that when they counted the fish in that morning's catch they found 153 of them. One early commentator reports that Greek zoologists of the period listed 153 different kinds of fish in the oceans of the world. So that by using this number, the gospel writer may have been suggesting that the ministry of Jesus is like a net which encompasses the entire world: Democrat and Republican, socialist and communist, Southern Baptist and Methodist, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight and yes, even that endangered species, the Presbyterians, such as me. Like it or not, God is trying to include us all.

In the Church of Jesus Christ we are now debating a fundamental question as to the very nature of that fishing net. What did Jesus have in mind when he suggested that so large a number should be included within in? Are we to think of the net as the infrastructure of the institutional church? Is our task in fishing to catch as many church members as we can? If so, then we, like those early disciples, arenít having much luck at the moment.

Is the net, rather the world wide communion of believers, including the wider Christian family all around the world as well as that hidden cloud of witnesses that has gone before? And is our purpose to include the whole of humanity in this single family? Many would be satisfied with this answer.

There is, however, another interpretation that may be suggested by the story of the risen Christ's appearance to the disciples that day, providing a very different answer to our question, with radically different consequences. Is the net being referred to here rather the all encompassing web of Godís grace and Godís love that already includes us all, holding all things together, things animate and inanimate, things on earth and even things in heaven, whether we recognize it or not?

Of course the wonderful thing about a truly great teacher Ė like Jesus in this story Ė is this capacity not for giving the answers to such questions, but asking the right questions in the first place. And asking those questions, as Jesus does in this text, with such a winning combination of humor, intelligence, passion and persistence, that the questions stay with us in a life long search for the One who truly does hold all things together.

I note in closing, that among the very last words of Jesus in this story are these: "Come, have breakfast with me." Here is The Word of God Incarnate, Lord of Lord and the King of Kings, cooking a few fish and roasting a few biscuits on the beach for this friends. Surely, it is through such simple things as this that the foundations of the world begin to shake. And in such humble beginnings lies the courage for the living of these days.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.