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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter - 4/22/07

If you ever buy or rent DVD’s you know that in addition to whatever movie it is that you want to watch, there are often additional special bonus features.  These special features can include quite a variety of material like interviews with the director, the stars and producers, maybe background on how they created the sets or did the special effects, and often included are scenes that didn’t make the actual movie that was released to the public.  I guess when they make a movie they usually film quite a bit more than what finally gets used, as for a variety of reasons some of it winds up on the cutting room floor as they say. 

The last chapter of John’s gospel, chapter 21, has a cutting room floor feel about it.  Chapter 20 seems to end it.  There you have the discovery of the empty tomb and the appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary Magdalene; you also have Jesus’ appearance later that day to the other disciples and you have the encounter with doubting Thomas the next week.  Then the final two verses wrap things up; “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. (They’re on the cutting room floor in other words.)  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  That sounds like the end to me; it seems to bring closure to what John wanted to say.

But then we get chapter 21 with additional resurrection appearances that are written as if the events of chapter 20 didn’t happen.  It seems like John had written about a number of experiences with the Risen Christ which gave him different options on how to end his gospel and then he had to choose what to include; finally though, he, or it could have been others after him, seem to have decided what the heck, I or we don’t want to leave anything out; these stories are too good.  So in chapter 21 we click on the special bonus features.

I think the best way to approach them is to treat them as they are rather than to worry about any apparent inconsistencies in sequence or any inconsistencies in what the disciples know or don’t know based on what we know went on in chapter 20.   It’s more productive to just see how these scenes reinforce or add to points that have already been made in John.

The first scene has the disciples back to work, back at their fishing nets and boats but having no luck until they encounter Jesus on the beach the next morning, although they didn’t know it was him.  Following his advice to cast their nets on the other side of the boat though, they wind up catching so many fish that they can’t haul the net into the boat but instead have to jump out of the boat and drag it to shore. 

“But wait,” you say.  “Haven’t we heard this before?”  And the answer is yes.  Luke has a very similar story, but he places it quite early in his gospel, in chapter 5.  There it is one of the early revelations, one of the early epiphanies of who Jesus is; so we had this story back in February a couple of months ago during the season of Epiphany.  Now I was down at Trinity that day so most of you didn’t hear what I said about this text, unless you came on Monday night or listened on the internet, so I could probably get away with pretty much saying the same thing.

Except I think being part of a resurrection appearance makes the story a little different, at least in some ways.  One of the things we learned from Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the Risen Christ, the text we had a couple of weeks ago on Easter morning, is that the resurrection changes things.  Remember how when she finally recognized Jesus, she wanted to kind of hang on to him, but he said no, “Don’t hold on to me.” 

Faith in the Risen Christ isn’t about holding on to the way things were or going back to the way things were, not even going back to the way Jesus was.  It’s moving forward to something new…new hope, new possibilities.  It’s faith that life is not limited to resigned, discouraged statements of “Well, that’s just the way it is,” and that life is not limited by what we can do (as important as that might be)  Faith in the Risen Christ says that God can and will act in new ways to make possible what seems to be impossible.  Faith in the Risen Christ says that God has been and continues to be a decisive player.

In this first scene of chapter 21 the disciples had gone back; they’d gone back to what was familiar, back to what they knew as if the resurrection didn’t change anything.  The miraculous catch of fish opened their eyes though.  It brought home to them that while some things about life were the same, they were different too.  New possibilities, new futures were already being opened to them which does reinforce one of the main themes of John’s entire gospel which is that of new life when one is in relationship with Jesus. 

The disciples already knew something of this new life and new possibility from the time when Jesus was with them as their teacher and friend.  They’d seen this kind of thing before.  Was it possible though, that it was all still available to them despite the seemingly decisive nature of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion?  Was it possible that they weren’t just imagining these encounters with the Risen Christ?  Was it possible that Jesus really was alive; different maybe, but alive?  The answer of course was yes.  Faith in the Risen Christ means that we still dare to boldly affirm that yes of new life and possibility, affirm it as being as true for us as it was for them. 

Scene 2 from the cutting room floor continues scene 1.  It has the disciples hauling the net full of fish to shore and then sharing a breakfast of bread and fish on the beach with Jesus.  If you’re a numbers person you might have picked up on the number of fish they hauled in, 153.  It is a number that has intrigued biblical interpreters since the earliest days of the church and undoubtedly it means something and there is no shortage of interpretations, but there is no consensus about what it means and personally, I don’t find any of the proposed explanations I came across terribly convincing.  I think it is enough to say that 153 represents a big number meant to foreshadow the success the disciples will have in their new calling, and that somehow it represents a complete number; but, having said that, no one knows for sure exactly what John had in mind in using this number.  Maybe someone just counted the fish, who knows.

More interesting, I think, is the detail that despite this large catch of fish, the net was not torn.  This is a detail that ties this story in with themes that have been raised previously in John, specifically the theme of unity.  In the Good Shepherd discourse in chapter 10 of John, the Good Shepherd, Jesus says that he has sheep that are not of this fold and that he has to bring them in so there will be one flock, one shepherd.  This connection would appear to be particularly relevant as scene 3 of chapter 21 moves to more shepherding imagery in Jesus’ conversation with Peter, including the commands to “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.”  In any event, the untorn net would seem to symbolize the unity of those caught by the disciples, unity that is important to Jesus.

Unity is an image though, that we might just as soon gloss over or leave on the cutting room floor because we’ve done such a poor job of it.  Christianity can wind up being its own worst enemy as the net does wind up being torn by divisions within denominations,  divisions between denominations, by doctrinal absolutism that says we’re right and everyone else is wrong so that churches become exclusive religious clubs where only true believers are welcome.  

With the image of the untorn net and the image of one flock of sheep, I think Jesus had something else in mind.   Throughout his ministry he was showing people how to be in a loving relationship with God and each other, not just asking them to say yes to a bunch of doctrine or a bunch of social or political statements.  Unfortunately there are times when it seems like that is what religion and faith has degenerated into.  When questioned though we tend to forget about our lack of unity and say with Peter, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  

Chapter 20 could have ended John’s gospel, but instead chapter 21 ends it following these bonus scenes with the statement, “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one were written down, I suppose that the world itself couldn’t contain the books that would be written.”  I guess some things were left on the cutting room floor.  I think we are the richer for this extra chapter though, as these scenes do add to the overall impact and message of the gospel and I’ve only touched on a few of the connections that can be made.  But, modifying the last verse, there are other connections that could be made, but if I made all of them, I suppose it would be an awfully long sermon.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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