Thursday, April 8, 2010

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

Third Sunday of Easter C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts 9:1-16, 97-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Having recorded the spectacular experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Peter's amazing transformation into a powerful witness of the gospel, Luke now tells of the transformative activity of the enthroned, Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit-- the conversion of Saul.  Known for his zealous persecution of the followers of "the Way,"  Saul requests and is granted authorization from the "high priest" to track them down in Damascus.  On his way there, "suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him."  He fell to the ground and heard a voice ask "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  In response to his query, Saul is told that the voice belongs to Jesus "whom you are persecuting."  Get up, go to Damascus and "you will be told what to do."  Saul's traveling companions are "speechless" and Saul, although his eyes are wide open "could see nothing..." "for three days."  One of those followers in Damascus named Ananias hears the Lord call him and he faithfully responds, "Here I am Lord."  He is told to go find Saul.  But Ananias is reluctant because Saul's reputation has preceded him.  The Lord insists, "Go, for he is an instrument I have chosen...."  Ananias complies, finds Saul, lays hands on him, explains who sent him and why he is there and "immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored."  Saul is baptized and is nurtured by the very community of followers he had set out to destroy!  Soon, "he began to to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God'."

On the occasion of "the dedication of the house," the psalmist gives thanks to the Lord for having been rescued: "You drew me up," he sings.  Robert Alter writes that the verb "dalooh" is the same verb used for drawing water up from a deep well. (The Book of Psalms, p 102)  He was rescued from "the Pit," "from Sheol."  This action is reflected in the daily rhythm of going to bed "weeping" but waking in the morning in "glad song."  This experience turns a dirge into a dance!

In John the Divine's vision, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders are now joined by countless "thousands upon thousands" of angels in praise "for the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb...."  All unite in the glorious "Amen!" 

(Three very significant themes in today's appointed gospel are developed by John.)  Despite two previous encounters with the Risen Christ, John's narrative returns to Galilee and the daily work of the disciples as fishermen.  On the shores of the Sea of Tiberias again, which was earlier the scene of the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes (chpt 6), several of the disciples are preparing to launch out for a nighttime fishing.  John specifically identifies Thomas, who has already had his personal encounter with the Risen Christ, Nathaniel, who reappears in the narrative for the first time since his presence at the wedding reception when Jesus turned water into wine, and the instigator, Simon Peter.  "Just after daybreak" (the same time of the day when the tomb was discovered to be empty), a figure appears on shore (John tells his readers it is Jesus, but the disciples do not yet recognize him) and tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  After not caching any fish all night, they now catch so many fish in their nets "they were not able to haul it in."  The "beloved disciple" tells Peter, "It is the Lord."  In this incident, John's narrative returns to an important theme: Jesus is most easily  recognized on occasions of extreme, unexpected, unlikely abundance.  NextJesus prepares breakfast for the disciples, which returns to another theme crucial to John's narrative:  Jesus is also recognized in the breaking and sharing of bread.  Now the focus turns to Peter and the third theme in this excerpt.   Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to acquit himself of his prior denial of Jesus (18:15-18, 25-27).  Each time, Peter professes his love of Jesus and Jesus tells him "feed my sheep."  The encounter concludes with an allusion to "the kind of death by which he would glorify God."

This Sunday's reading from Acts and the gospel tell the remarkable stories of the transformation of two least likely, qualified, willing, prepared people to become the two most important leaders of the post-resurrection community of believers!  Saul/Paul is the rabid persecutor of the followers of Christ; Peter is remembered and haunted by his denial not once or twice but three times of his friend and mentor when everything was on the line.  Saul/Paul's transformation is fulfilled in the community of believers who take him in, nurture him in the gospel and baptize him.  Peter's response to the Risen Christ is fulfilled when he accepts leadership of the community of believers, a shepherd of the sheep.

Because the church is a community of those ordained to witness and convey the love of God because we have been the ones who have experienced it for ourselves, Kathryn Tanner calls those who understand themselves as heirs of this grace as "the ministers of divine benefits."  In her 2001 study, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity,  she writes:  "...[T]he ministers of divine benefit should therefore be as wide as God's gift-giving purview.  In this universal community, humans should try to distribute the gifts of god as God does without concern for whether they are especially deserved by their recipients.  Without bothering themselves, for example, between the deserving or undeserving poor, they should give their full attention, instead, to the various needs of members of this worldwide community.  they must offer special protections, moreover, as they become necessary, to those most likely to be left out of the community of concern at any point in time-- the outcasts and strangers is their midst."  She comes full circle and continues:  "Again in imitation of God's relations with us, one gives to others with the hope that these gifts will be the basis for their activity as ministers of divine beneficence; one gives for their empowerment as gives in turn."  "one expects dedication to the good of others to arise from the grateful sense that one has already been the recipient of benefit."  (pp 89-90)

The DNA of the church comes through Ananias and the community of believers in Damascus who took in and empowered their most intimidating enemy who, in turn, became the most tireless witness to the love of God flowing through Jesus, the Christ.  Erratic Peter responds, too, to God's persistent love and finds his true calling as a trustworthy shepherd all the way to the end.  The church is at her best when truest to her origins-- beneficiaries of God's love who become beneficiaries to others.