Reflections on the Gospel By Art Pittman
The last two years have been difficult. Extended periods of isolation and varying forms of lock-down have taken their toll on our society, on our communities of faith, and on each and every one of us. And while there is some scientific basis for optimism moving forward, the news about the “sixth wave” of the pandemic is not reassuring. It is fair to say that for many of us, this is not where we want to be in our lives. How can we cope with these challenges?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Simon Peter and some of his fellow disciples try to distract themselves from the difficulties in their lives by going fishing. An annotation in my NRSV Harper Study Bible points out that:
“After the resurrection, the disciples were at a loss to know what to do. Jesus had not yet given them instructions to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, these men, who had been busy with Jesus for almost three years, decided to return to what had been their trade before they became disciples.”
They were uncertain about their futures, and probably afraid for their lives, so it probably seemed only natural—therapeutic even—that they would seek comfort in a familiar task. But it was not what the disciples were called to do.
Jesus appears and reminds Simon Peter that if he loves God, he is called to serve others. Theologians have debated the nuances of the specific words in this exchange between Christ and Simon Peter, and the significance of Christ repeating his question to Simon Peter three times. There is merit in exploring and learning from these questions, but the most striking aspect of this passage for me is the emphasis Christ places on the connection between loving God, and serving others. Echoing Christ’s previous teachings (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:36-40) that call us to love God, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
This may seem to be a simple standard, but it is one that I have frequently failed to meet. I dwell on issues which are inconsequential, feel pride for accomplishments which don’t matter, get attached to material things, and often feel judgemental towards others even though I know that I am a sinner. And so, in my brokenness, I am often distracted from my relationship with God—allowing the world’s problems to overwhelm me.
Our Gospel lesson today reminds me that, even with my imperfections, shifting my focus to serving others can help me see past the distractions which separate me from God. It may not always feel comfortable, or familiar, or even safe. And, as Jesus tells Simon Peter, following our call to love God and our neighbours will often lead us to places where we do not wish to go. But we are strengthened when we focus on loving God and serving our neighbour—which makes coping with the challenges of this world… less overwhelming somehow.