I’d like to begin my homily today by sharing with you a small personal detail. A week ago last Thursday, that is, Easter Thursday, my brother and his wife welcomed into this world their first-born son. The first grandchild for my family and really a surprising game changer in the sense of how we each look at the world and perceive the gift of life.
As I reflected on this young child I was drawn to realize that the world this child enters into really is a different world than any of us know. When this child comes of age in about 2033 the world will look very different than it does today, perhaps more different than it has over any 20 year period in the past. Although it probably seems odd for me to say, being the youngest priest around, I do feel old when I think about just how much the world has already changed in my lifetime and how much again it will change in the life of this little one. Things change so quickly today, the world I grew up in, before computers, before cell phones, when you still had the old rotary dial phones on the kitchen wall, when stores were closed on Sunday, and the internet was hardly even a dream of the future. This world is gone, as gone as the one or two dollar bills to us, and as gone as the penny will be to this young child.
As we contemplate just how quickly things change in our world, we realize what a gift we have in our faith that has remained steadfast through 2000 and more years. Yet, even the way in which we live our faith today is quickly changing, so fast perhaps we don’t even notice it. Our world is growing more and more hostile to the teachings of our faith. Any challenge we put to the prevailing opinions of our times is very quickly labeled as oppressive, judgmental, uncharitable, and even un-Christian! We live in a society that says it accepts us as Christians and yet does not want to hear what the essence of being Christian really means, that is, following Jesus Christ. He is the one who reveals the face of God to us and who confirms us in the covenants and commands made centuries before with Abraham, Moses, the Prophets; all of what is contained in the deposit of faith given to the Church in word and witness.
The apostles in our first reading today faced this same challenge, preaching Jesus Christ to a world that feared, that oppressed, that persecuted those who would stand fast for their beliefs. We hear of the apostles defense before the Sanhedrin, that Jesus Christ is risen, and that because He is risen their lives could never be the same, the world could never be looked at the same again. All of history, all progress, technology, society must be subject to Jesus Christ. The apostles maintain that each one of our hearts needs be changed by Him, so that everything we encounter in this world is effected by our faith in Him whether 2000, 1500, 1000, 500 or 50 years after His death and resurrection.
The Gospel of John that we reflect upon today show the disciples apparently returning to the ordinary reality of their lives after the death resurrection of Jesus; they were fishermen, and so they go fishing. Yet, we see them utterly incapable of catching any fish, a very odd plight for those who purported to call themselves fishermen. As they return to the ordinary reality of their lives they are utterly unsuccessful until they see the Lord on the shore early in the morning. Although they didn’t realize it, the disciples lives had changed forever because their faith had changed. As fast as the world was moving they needed to realize they could not simply enter back into their lives without Christ, thinking that the world would maintain its old course. They, and the world had been changed by Christ, so much so that the world would begin to seek them out, both to learn from them of Jesus, and to persecute them for His name. We also need to have these two perspectives in our own lives, so that we might be witnesses no matter how the world may change. We need to focus on receiving and handing on what the Lord has given to us and to be ready to perhaps be persecuted for His name.
To encourage us in this, the Gospels and Our Lord so often use beautiful symbolic lanuage to keep drawing us in deeper and deeper. Here in our gospel, as the disciples have worked in the darkness all night, just at dawn, the natural light of the sun returning, they see the risen Lord on the shore. By this John draws us to that creation account of the Old Testament book of Genises, so that now we see Jesus is the same light that dawned on the first day of creation, the light that has come into the world to scatter all darkness. Jesus comes into the ordinary reality of their lives as He did so often in the Gospels, this time ordering the apostles to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Sure enough the apostles bring in a great catch of fish, the Gospel tells us, numbering 153.
This last detail of the number of fish is perhaps more significant than we realize, drawing us to realize how the changing and diverse world is called to Christ. Although many interpretations have been put forward the one that I would like to share with you is that this number springs from the ancient understanding of how many different varieties of fish there were in the sea. Although we know the species of fish are thousands upon thousands, in the ancient world it was believed the species only numbered 153. Thus, when it is said they gathered in 153, the illusion is that, like the Church, the apostles are meant to gather in all, not the fish of the sea but all the people of the world.
As we encounter this world that is so quickly changing we remind ourselves of this fundamental encounter with the risen Lord. Jesus sent out the apostles and the whole Church through all history to gather in humanity. No matter how our world might change and adapt, and how they view our Christian faith we must always propose the Gospel, the good news of our risen Savior. In Christ, true light has dawned upon our world. We as Christians must fight to keep that light burning, because it is only in Christ that the human heart will truly be at peace.
As we live our faith this week let us look for those moments when the risen Lord is calling us to look to Him, to be encouraged by Him, to show by words, actions, and deeds that although our world changes our faith remains true. The messiah has come, the Lord is risen, and He will come again to gather all history, all people who desire Him, to share with them the gift of true life and love for which our hearts long.