Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three in all; even though there were so many, still the net did not tear. John 21:11
Who counted the fish?
You’d think after seeing Jesus risen from death and still providing miraculously for them, they all would have been focusing on more important things than counting the exact number of fish.
The gospel account describes an encounter the apostles had with Jesus after his death and resurrection. He appeared on the shore as they were returning from an unsuccessful fishing expedition. He called out to them and told them to lower their nets and they caught so many fish they couldn’t haul the net back in. Jesus invited them to come and eat, and gave them fish and bread.
It’s astonishing that someone present at this miracle not only thought to count the fish, but took the time to do it. There has been much speculation on the significance of the number 153. One theory is that 153 was believed to be the number of varieties of fish in the world, so symbolically Jesus was instructing the disciples to spread the good news to people of all races and nationally. I’m not so sure. In Marks’s gospel, Jesus told them in plain language to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all people.” Why couch the message in symbols?
Is it possible that someone present at this miracle actually did take the time to count the fish? That makes me wonder if we sometimes get so caught up in practical matters that we miss the miracles right under our noses. Are we so busy keeping score or focusing on our accomplishments that opportunities to share love fall by the wayside?
I, for one, like crossing things off my “to do” list. As a working mother when my daughter was little, those lists were extensive. To tell the truth, sometimes it seemed easier to keep the house tidy and cook from scratch every night than deal with less concrete issues. I did the best I could, and had some quality times with my little girl, but how many miracles did I miss because I was “counting fish” instead of enjoying the moments?
Prayer: Risen Lord, help me focus on true priorities.
Reflection? When is it easier to pay attention to distracting details? Why?
It may be that Onesimus was away from you for a short time so that you might have him back for all time. And now he is not just a slave, but much more than a slave; he is a dear brother in Christ. How much he means to me! And how much more he will mean to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord! Philemon 15-16
When the slave Onesimus ran away from Philemon, he probably financed his getaway with Philemon’s money. In his travels, Onesimus met Paul, became a Christian, and helped Paul in his ministry. Nevertheless, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master. Paul asked Philemon to forgive the runaway slave and welcome him—not only as a returning slave—but as a Christian brother! That was asking a lot. Perhaps expecting Onesimus to willingly go back was asking even more. There was no guarantee that Philemon would welcome him with open arms. Onesimus returned anyway.
I wonder what Onesimus felt as he headed back. Was he afraid? Reluctant? Hopeful? Eager to make up for the wrongs he had done? When we make amends for wrongs we have done to others, we become truly free. Our integrity doesn’t depend on how others receive our apologies but on our choice to make them.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul told him that if Onesimus owed him anything to charge it to Paul’s account. Then he reminded Philemon of how much he himself owed to Paul, setting the stage for an atmosphere of forgiveness, healing, and the chance to relate on a different footing. When we need to forgive others for wrongs they have done us, it’s easier when we recognize how much we owe God who forgives us for the things we have done.
Prayer: Lord, may the grace of your forgiveness lead to healing.
Reflection: Think of someone you have wronged; say a prayer for them. Think of someone who has wronged you; say a prayer for them, too.
“I have amnesia and I forget that I have amnesia.” Anonymous
We all need reminders from time to time. It’s easy enough to jot down an important date or appointment, but what about other things?
We learn by repetition. Learning by rote gets a bad rap. Yes, just parroting facts without understanding their meaning can be pointless. And yet, some lessons can only be learned by repetition. Then they become second nature.
The first time I got behind the wheel of a car, I was very conscious of how to turn on the ignition and when I was applying the gas and brakes. If I had to think that hard about the mechanics of driving every time I drove, I’d be unable to follow the rules of safe driving, read street signs, or keep an eye out for pedestrians. Musicians have to practice basic scales until they become ingrained before they can play a piece of music with feeling. Doing certain tasks over and over builds proficiency. Remember your first day on a new job? How much more effective are you now?
The same is true of our spiritual development. We can’t rest on our spiritual laurels. We need to repeat the actions that lead to spiritual growth in order to continue growing and help others grow. Reading the bible or other spiritual material and sharing in our faith community reminds us of the truth of our faith and what it means in our daily lives. We can hear the gospel or a rousing homily on Sunday morning about love or forgiveness and forget about them when someone cuts us off on the drive home. We need frequent reminders of who we are in Christ and what that calls us to. We can’t live it out without God’s grace and the support and fellowship of the believers he puts in our path.
We may know intellectually the principles of our faith, but we need reminders to immerse ourselves in them as a way of life.
“Repetition is the only form of permanence nature can know.” George Santayana
Prayer: Holy Spirit, remind me who I am.
Reflection: Who reminds you of the goodness, faith, and love we share in our spiritual journey? Who can you remind today?
“Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my savior.” Habakkuk 3: 17-18
Surrounded by violence, cruelty, and signs of coming destruction, Habakkuk trembled with fear. Even so, he chose to trust that God was in charge and would act when the time was right at the time He chose. Habakkuk’s testimony to joy isn’t based on circumstances but on who God is.
Our savior is bigger than any circumstances we face. Like Habakkuk, we can choose to praise God no matter what. While that might not change our circumstances it certainly can change our experience of those circumstances.
Once during an MS attack, physical pain made it impossible for me to function or even think clearly. I felt swamped in misery until a friend suggested spiritual warfare might be tempting me to despair. A new awareness switched on. I began to look at my situation from a different point of view. Alone at home, I turned on the radio. A song came on about praising God whether times were good or bad. “My heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name.” I sang along at the top of my lungs. A sense of victory flooded me. I didn’t have to be bullied by my circumstances. I could choose to praise the Lord no matter what. Nothing had changed, but everything had changed. I felt free.
Of course we all feel sad, or frightened, or hurt sometimes. We’re human. God gave us our feelings for a reason. We don’t have to pretend we aren’t in pain when we are. But while happiness is fleeting, joy runs deeper. Good times come and go. Just like Habakkuk, we have the freedom to be joyful anyway because our eternal God and savior remains.
Prayer: I will be joyful because God is bigger than my circumstances.
Reflection: When has God gotten you through a challenge you couldn’t manage on your own? Were you able to see Him working in the situation at the time or only in looking back can you see it? How might that help you in future challenges?
Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:8b NIV
What have you received freely? If you made a list of all the good in your life that you never earned, paid for, or reciprocated, what would it look like? Most of us started receiving freely from the day we were born: someone to fed us, bathed us, changed us, provided us with clothes and a roof over our heads.
What else have you received? Role models? Basic education? Love? Kindness? Forgiveness?
How many of these gifts could we pay back? Why not, as they say, pay it forward? Jesus said it 2000 years ago—if we’ve received freely, why not give freely? When we think about our blessings, we’re inclined to be generous—not as an ego trip, not so we can think of ourselves as magnanimous, but because we have been richly blessed.
It’s so tempting to give with strings attached. We keep mental tabs of the favors we do and who owes us. We feel they’re obliged to reciprocate–or at least think highly of us and appreciate our generosity.
It’s not easy to give freely unless we realize how much we’ve been given freely. Are we in a position to be generous with our money, our time, or our emotional support? Chances are it’s because we’ve been blessed with money, time, or nurturing so we have something to share in the first place.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to all the blessings I’ve been gifted with.
Reflection: Make a list of all the ways you’ve been blessed; then decide how to show your gratitude.
When they had finished breakfast, [the resurrected] Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” he said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate that kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to [Peter], “Follow me.” John 21: 15-19
Peter, the rock on which Jesus built his church, was utterly human. When Jesus first called him, Peter told Jesus to depart from him because he was a sinful man. Peter had a gut-level awareness of his human weaknesses. By the time he had followed Jesus for three years, Peter seemed to have forgotten his imperfections…Jesus was well aware of Peter’s weaknesses, but loved him and chose him anyway.
After Jesus was taken prisoner by the Jewish authorities, Peter denied Jesus three times, as predicted. Peter’s failure is well recorded in the Gospels…Peter could have been crippled easily by the burden of his guilt. He not only denied Jesus, but he failed to live up to his own expectations of himself…How did Peter find the courage to face others after abandoning Jesus in spite of his boast of unwavering faithfulness? Perhaps Peter’s healing of guilt began as he remembered that Jesus had not only predicted his denial but also assured Peter he had prayed for him. More than that, Jesus told Peter there was a job for him to do after he turned back. Jesus wanted Peter to ‘strengthen’ his brothers. He could encourage the others–not because Peter had been a tower of strength–but because he had been all too human.
…With each affirmation [of his love for Jesus] Peter was re-commissioned to feed the Lord’s sheep. This made it clear that Peter could best show his love for Jesus, not by changing the past, but by acting in the present with love.
When we face our flaws and share them with God and with another trusted person, such as we do in the sacrament of reconciliation, we grow spiritually. These are graced opportunities.
If we want a gauge of how faithful to Christ we are, Christ’s interaction with Peter gives us a great tool. Are we feeding his sheep? Are we taking care of the ones he loves? What we do to the least of them, we do to him.
Prayer: Loving Savior, grant me the courage to face my own weaknesses. Help me accept the healing power of your forgiveness. Teach me to forgive myself.
Reflection: What is the biggest challenge in accepting forgiveness as a free gift, rather than something you deserve or have to earn?
“Your Faith Has Made You Well: Jesus Heals in the New Testament”
Copyright 2014 by Barbara Hosbach
Paulist Press, Inc. Mahwah, N.J. www.paulistpress.com
Used with permission
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this must also say, “Come!” Come, whoever is thirsty; accept the water of life as a gift, whoever wants it. Revelation 22:17
Are you thirsty?
We’re invited to refresh ourselves. The water of life is a free gift…if we want it. We don’t have to earn it; it’s a gift. The only requirement seems to be that once we’re invited, we invite others, too.
Life-giving water isn’t stagnant. What flows in must also flow out. We can’t hoard the invitation. We’re meant to share it. We’re called to offer the water of life to “whoever wants it.” Not just those we think are suited to it, although that might be comfortable. Not even with those we think need it—people don’t always want what they need.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said prostitutes and tax-collectors would enter God’s kingdom before religious authorities. Being an outcast is likely to make us very thirsty. Whatever we think makes us an outcast, isn’t a barrier to being welcomed by God. It’s almost a pre-requisite. Once we receive our invitation, all we have to do is drink deeply and pass it on to other thirsty outcasts.
Prayer: I accept your invitation, Lord. Thank you.
Reflection: Who in your life is thirsty? How can you share your invitation with them?
The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34 NAB
And [Jesus] did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 NRSV
We belong to the New Covenant. When our spiritual forefathers broke the Old Covenant, God promised to make a new covenant. More than Ten Commandments on a stone, He promised to write the new law on our hearts. He promised to be our God and all we had to do was be His people, that He would enable all of us to know Him, and that he would forgive our sins.
At the Last Supper, Jesus announced the beginning of this New Covenant instituted with His blood on the cross. He promised that after His death and resurrection, He would send us a Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to live the New Covenant. When we allow the Spirit to move us, we can live out God’s law of love for God, our neighbor, and ourselves. We can connect with God in our heats, we can accept the priceless gift of forgiveness and know we belong to the Body of Christ.
Prayer: Praise God who does for us what we can never do for ourselves.
Reflection: How can responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings affect your relationship with God, with others, or even with yourself?
I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. Isaiah 50: 6-7
Jesus was beaten, mocked, stripped, and spit on—that sure sounds like being put to shame. Even so, Jesus never lost his dignity.
What is the difference between being a suffering servant and a doormat? Isaiah gives us two answers.
“The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.” When we are doing what we believe God would have us do, we’re concerned with what success looks like from God’s point of view, not other people’s opinions. Their words and actions might hurt, but they don’t have the power to make us more or less honorable than we are by our own choices. Other people’s choices reflect on them, not on us.
“I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” Setting our faces “like flint” implies a determination that can’t be swayed by taunts, threats, or circumstances. It is quite the opposite of being a doormat. We might choose to hold our ground no matter what other people’s reactions are. When we exercise our free will, we might endure ridicule or hostility. Not allowing ourselves to be goaded into a snide or hurtful response takes great courage—the kind of courage that only comes when God is our help.
Prayer: Lord, when I’m challenged, help me focus on Your will for me.
Reflection: What can help you maintain your self-respect in the face of insults?