I saw Jesus. I knew it was him, but he looked different: his face a ball of white light, his clothes so dazzlingly white that it hurt my eyes to look at them and I shielded them with my arm (dreams can seem so real sometimes).
Then I saw the other figures, two of them, and they were talking to him. It seems strange, but I knew straight away who they were: Moses and Elijah. They were all in white, all three of them enveloped in this amazing light, brighter than the sun.
And they were talking with Jesus, like they knew him already, like it was something they did everyday. But it was more than that: Jesus was at the centre of the three; he was the greatest of them. I thought a lot about that later: imagine it, the Jesus we’d walked with, eaten with, spent so much time with: greater than the greatest of our prophets.
And suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming, that this was real. It felt like somehow I’d slipped into another world. And I was terrified. Typically for me, I started gabbling, blurting out anything that came into my head, trying to make the situation seem normal: some nonsense about building shelters for them, James told me afterwards.
Then it got scarier: we were caught up in the cloud, James and John and I. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought it was going to burst and I was quaking all over. If I was going to die, to be struck down because I was unworthy to be in the presence of God himself, I wanted it to happen quickly. And painlessly.
Instead we heard a voice: it seemed all around us, loud and booming, yet it also spoke quietly as a whisper into our ears: ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ I fell at Jesus’ feet and when I got up, the cloud had gone and we were alone with him.
He didn’t give us any explanation: just told us not to say anything to the others, to anyone, until he was raised from the dead. We didn’t understand what he meant then – it only made sense a long time afterwards.
James, John and I didn’t talk about it much among ourselves. I think we were all trying to work out what it meant, but we couldn’t quite get there. I only knew that I’d had my confirmation: this man Jesus, my friend and teacher, he was the Christ, the Son of God: he’d come at last!
Follow Up: How do you see Jesus today?
Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
Last week we began exploring the ending(s) to John’s gospel with its first ending (John 20:19-31). The disciples are gathered in a locked room together, surrounded by anxiety, fear and uncertainty, and into that space Jesus appears and offers them peace and breathes Spirit upon them, to encourage them and continue to teach them more of the story, to help sustain them as they keep on believing.
Now into chapter 21, the start of the second ending to the gospel, some of the disciples are gathered again, not in a room, but on the shore of Galilee. Peter says, ‘I’m going to fish’, and the others who are with him say they will come too.
Peter, and many of the others, were fisherman. So going to fish was familiar to them, and perhaps, after 3 years following Jesus, had become something of a past-time. Sometimes this moment can be described as the disciples going back to old ways, perhaps even turning their back on Jesus’ call to them to fish for people, and instead fishing for, well, fish.
Fishing: Life-giving fun
There can be merit for us in reflecting on that interpretation, but I’m not sure that’s the only way to hear the story. I wonder if Peter and his friends are not do much going back to old ways, but going off to spend time looking after their wellbeing. Why? Because I think we could quite equally read and hear the story as one about a group of friends going off to spend time doing something from their past that they love, enjoy and in the past found life-giving.
But yet, they have a bad night, this band of friends, and catch nothing.
As dawn comes, a voice comes from the shore – ‘children, you’ve not got anything to eat have you?’
‘No’, comes the reply.
‘cast on the right side of the boat’ says the stranger.
And so they do, and FISH! – the nets are bursting.
And Peter dives into the lake – for ‘It is the Lord’.
Once the rest of the disciples manged to drag the net of fish ashore, Jesus has a fire going, and says ‘bring your fish, let’s have breakfast together’.
and so they spend time together, in dawns morning light.
My Paraphrase, see John 21:1-14 for the full story
Fishing: A Children’s game
I love the fact Jesus, intially as a stranger to them, calls children to them. They weren’t children as we would see them, they were probably young adults by all accounts, but I love this image it leaves me with of someone standing on the shore, watching a group of friends playing around like children, having fun fishing together, despite the fact they’d not yet caught anything.
But then, with a bit of encouragement from this stranger, the disicples are blessed with nets a-bursting, and their fun and games bear fruit.
Fishing: Jesus in our everyday
I reckon this story demonstrates to us just how interested Jesus is in us, in our wellbeing, and our every day. Jesus blesses his friends with direction to get a bumper catch after a long and relaxing night as friends on the lake, doing something they love and enjoy.
Then what happens? Jesus invites them to bring what they have, and to share breakfast together. To enjoy the fruits of their leisure. There’s no teaching here, no lesson to learn, no parable told. Jesus just spends time with them, enjoying a meal together as the sun breaks on the shore.
For the disciples, their life-giving, enjoyable, fun-time-together activity was fishing, and Jesus was with them as they did so, enjoying its fruitfulness with them. What’s your ‘fishing’? What is life-giving for you? What fun is Jesus enjoying the fruitfulness of, with you?
Do you ever get stuck knowing how to end a letter or an email? I don’t write letters very often, but send many emails, and often pause as I end wondering what the most appropriate ending might be. ‘Every blessing’, ‘best wishes’, ‘regards’, ‘in Christ’. Since the pandemic began I often use ‘in peace and hope’.
I find it fascinating that 2 of the 4 gospels in the bible sort of have 2 endings. Mark has a shorter and longer ending in chapter 16 – depending on which original texts you look at. Often our bibles make this clear with headings and footnotes.
Headings and footnotes don’t usually appear in the same way in John – but it is also thought to have a first and second ending. When we read it, chapter 20 feels to have a natural end – but then, goes on with chapter 21. Many scholars think (though not all!) that chapter 21 was added to the text of John’s gospel at some stage after the first version of the gospel was created.
All the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are stories of persuasion and intrigue and encouragement. Stories of the life of Jesus, the impact he had on the communities he travelled through, and the lives he touched and transformed.
Each gospel comes from a different perspective and was written for differing communities and audiences. Some repeat stories told in other gospels; others hold stories unique only to them. Few stories occur in all 4.
After telling its version of the story – John’s gospel comes to its first end as we read the last verses of John 20:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.”
Keep on believing
The phrase interpreted here as ‘may come to believe’ can equally be interpreted as may continue believing, or keep on believing.
Some scholars believe this second translation is in fact the one intended by John’s author. They argue that one of the key principles of John’s gospel is that it was written not only to persuade and encourage people to believe, but equally, if not primarily, to encourage and sustain the continuing believing of a persecuted and struggling community, who were not the original witnesses to its story.
The text we now call John’s gospel comes from, probably, around 70AD, 40 or so years on from Jesus’ ministry. The text therefore comes from a point in history where the Jesus-story was being passed on from the original witness to the next generation. This generation, who’s faith up to now had been sustained by the original witnesses, were now themselves the custodians of the story. These custodians needed encouragement to continue believing the story and sharing its life-giving power with others, despite the fact they were not original witnesses.
2000 years on, the story continues to be passed on, so I think we can say they did an ok job.
Before we get to this first ending of the gospel, we have read another important story –Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disicples.
They are locked in a room together, grieving, fearful, lost. And into that room filled with uncertainty and fear Jesus appears and says, “peace be with you.” and breathes on them saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
John’s gospel begins with the word that was with God and was God (1:1) – who comes to dwell among us (1:14). An echo of the story of origin that we find in Genesis 1. Now, as we reach a climax to John’s gospel the word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, now breathes the very presence of God upon us.
This promised presence flows throughout the story that is John’s gospel. In chapter 14 Jesus promises the comforter will come to remind what Jesus has taught them and continue teaching more of the story to the community. (John 14:26)
The story lives on
John’s gospel reminds us that what we read in scripture is not the whole story – that the gospel story lives on through the very presence of God – the Holy Spirit – living among us. There is more the be taught, more to be reminded, more to be said. [hence, perhaps, chapter 21 gets added in!]
If the story lives on among us and within us, that means our stories become part of the gospel story – the good news story – that is the transforming life and love of Jesus among us.
So while here in John we are told here is enough of the story that you can believe and keep on believing, by God’s presence with us and in us we too have our own stories to tell of how our human story and God’s story have entwined. Stories of our experince of our lives transformed by the transforming life of Christ.
These stories we can share remind us and witness to the truth that God’s presence is with us, and they encourage us and others to keep on believing.
So friends, what story are you going to tell today?