A Loud Silence
We are in communication today more than ever. Many people have their cell phones on twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They live their lives in Facebook; risk having a fatal accident because of texting while driving, they tweet every time they can, and check their emails every twenty minutes. With all this communicating you would guess that people know each other more than ever. But do we? Can any of our Facebook friends be able to finish our sentences or know how we feel without us saying a word? Are we known at a deeper level than a 140 characters tweet?
There are times during our lives that to speak would be sacrilegious. There are times that the best we can do is to remain silent. It could be the experience of a wonder of nature, the beauty of a sunset, or the birth of our first child. There are miracles that demand the respect of silence. Job’s friends spend time with him in silence and did not get in trouble with God until they said something trying to defend God. And Job responded to God’s question, “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:3) There are times in which silence is our only response to a sacred moment.
The disciples had more than their share of sacred moments. The Sunday after Jesus crucifixion was a very emotional day, from early in the morning until evening of that first day of the week. The women found the tomb empty; and Peter and John ran to the tomb to confirm what the women were saying. Then Mary Magdalene came back telling them that she had seen the Lord alive and that Jesus had sent her with a message for the disciples. After that two other disciples came claiming that they had seen the Lord as they were on the road to Emmaus. The disciples spend the rest of the day thinking about the events of the day. And latter on that evening they gathered in their usual place.
John tells us that "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!" (John 20:19) Thomas, one of the twelve, was not present at that time; so when the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he refused to believe. The following Sunday, the disciples were again together and this time Thomas was present. Jesus appeared again and addressed Thomas refusal to believe. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
This is where the text for this Sunday in the gospel of John begins. Following these events, seven of the disciples were together including Peter. Peter gets up and announces, "I am going fishing." The others decided to go with him. They expend all night fishing but they did not catch anything. Early the next morning, someone standing on shore calls out to them: "Children, you have no fish, have you?" He instructs them to throw the net on the right side of the boat and they caught a large number of fish. Seeing this, John tells Peter, "It is the Lord!" And Peter being Peter could not wait for the boat to get to shore, so he immediately jumped into the water and swam to shore while the other disciples followed him in the boat.
"When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Jesus approached them, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. John states that "none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. They knew deep within their hearts that it was Jesus right in front of them; and at the same time they were not sure. They wanted to ask but they were embarrassed to do so. It was one of those awkward silent moments. Knowing Peter from the gospels accounts, I think it was a miracle that Peter did not say anything.
Maybe Peter was afraid, because of the many times before that he had broken the silence and said something not very smart. Like the time of Jesus’ transfiguration when he told Jesus: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And Mark commented that he said that because, “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” (Mark 9:5-6) Or the time that he rebuked Jesus because Jesus talked about his death; that time Jesus turned and said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!”(Matthew 16:22-23) Maybe Peter did not want to be embarrassed one more time.
Maybe they were silent because the whole event brought back so many memories. They would remember the child who offered Jesus his five loaves and two fishes; the thousands that were fed. They would remember the last supper, just a few days earlier. When Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to them saying this is my body. They would recall how the disciples on the road to Emmaus said that they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread before them. There were so many memories of meals shared.
Maybe the silence was because Peter, James and John could remember the second time they met Jesus. Like that day they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Jesus asked Peter to let him use his boat to preach from there to the crowds in the shore. Afterward he told Peter to let down the net and they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break and the boat began to sink. James and John, Peter’s associates in the fishing business had to come to help him. That time Peter responded by telling Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” And Jesus lovingly responded, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So why are they back fishing for fish, rather than fishing for people?
I think that the silence was beginning to be painful. Finally Jesus broke the silence and said: “Come and have breakfast.” According to John, this was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. John is talking about the two consecutive Sundays that Jesus appeared in their meeting place even when the doors were close. This is the third time and yet they are not totally sure that it is Jesus. They want to ask who are you, and at the same time they have a feeling that it is Christ. Or is it?
It is incredible how we think that if we could see Jesus, we would be able to be sure and never doubt. But continuously the experiences of the disciples dispel that idea. How many times would God have to act for us to have an unshakable faith? The first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And yet rather than going to make disciples they are back to their old business. Fishing in the evening was the professional way of fishing; that way they could sell the fish fresh in the morning; so we are witnessing the disciples going back to their old lives even after seeing the resurrected Jesus twice. Maybe that is why they cannot speak.
The second time that Jesus appeared, when he addressed Thomas, he told him: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” There was a loud silence, a noticeable silence. A silence that was not typical of the disciples, especially of Peter. Maybe Peter was remembering his words the night that Jesus was arrested. That night “Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:31-33)
John tells us that, "When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” Peter must have remembered his words, committing his life to follow Jesus even if it meant death. Painfully Peter finally speaks, “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” "Then he said to him, “Follow me!” So what would it take for you to follow Jesus today and into the future?