|"The Miraculous Draught of Fish"by Rubens|
Our celebrant was most interested in the charcoal fire on the beach...which he noted the only other time there was a charcoal fire mentioned was when Peter denied Jesus, something that would be undone in the verses to follow in the 21st chapter of John's Gospel. But I was more interested by a couple of other parts of today's Gospel. First, it hadn't struck me until today that the breakfast Jesus serves up on the beach is bread and fish, which for me recalls the miraculous feeding of the five thousand and is one of the few stories of Jesus which exists in all four Gospels. This breakfast is only going to feed a dozen, not thousands, and yet it is significant that the same food which fed all and all were satisfied is brought out again to feed those who will be charged with "feed my sheep."
Even more interesting is the idea of the 153 fish. I've looked, and I can't find anything that would be a clue about this number, but I am taking it as a sign of the diversity of sea life that found its way into their net and even with all of them squirming and their collected weight, the net didn't break. Cool, right? "But wait: there's more!"
I have to wonder if the significance of this catch could hold a lesson for us, the Church, today? I am curious about the idea that the apostles weren't able to fulfill their mission to "fish for people" until they dropped their net off the other side of the boat. As I consider this, it makes me think that for the church to grow, we need to be willing to cast our net into the waters that are not the usual ones. There are a lot of "fish" out there...just as there are a lot of "sheep" who need feeding and tending. But if we keep going to the same places, and using the same methods of attracting people, then we are missing an opportunity to reach those who are still swimming about in the great big sea called "the world." And the people we may encounter may not be "the usual suspects," which, in the case of Episcopalians, would be upper middle-class white people. Our population could stand to look a little more diverse and come from more walks of life.
Naturally, this requires people to step outside of their usual patterns and gathering places in order to meet those who are not just like us. That's risky, and nobody really likes to do what is risky. Face-to-face, person-to-person contact is always the best. And I sometimes wonder if it doesn't help to share freely and fully some of the good things happening at a particular church through this medium called "social networking." It may not seem as effective as the incarnated encounter with a happy Episcopalian. And yet, more and more people are dependent on their FB and other social networks to know what's happening in the world. A well-organized and planned strategy for sharing posts will raise a church's visibility. And once people find the church, a congregation trained in showing hospitality to a stranger is the net to encourage that visitor to become a more frequent participant. And once someone feels included, their willingness to take part in the life of the church takes off. And now--you have a net teeming with fish!
Are we ready for that?