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Curious details in today’s Gospel

I would like to take a close look at three of the more curious details in today’s Gospel. First of all, we have a symbolic number: 153. There were 153 fish in the net. We know that 153 was a symbolic number for the people of the first century. Some scholars say that there were 153 tribes and nations in the Mediterranean world in the first century. But that is only a guess. We wish that we could find out the secret meaning of that number; but that information has never been discovered. All we know for sure is that the net should break with that many large fish in it.

When Jesus goes fishing for people for his kingdom his net holds more people than one would expect. His net is the family of God and God’s family includes more people than we could ever imagine. His net includes fishermen like Peter, hard-working homemakers like Martha, tax collectors like Matthew, loyal disciples like Mary Magdalene, poets like John, and faith-filled evangelists like the woman at the well.

Human societies and human communities like to expel people until things feel just right. In most groups, liberals are thrown out and conservatives are thrown out until the folks in the middle feel comfortable. But Jesus does not function that way. His net is big enough to include conservatives and liberals and everyone in-between.

Another detail: the bread and the fish which constitute the meal on the seashore. Not bread and wine, but bread and fish. Why? Because Jesus wanted his disciples to think about the meal where he fed 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish and twelve baskets of fragments were left over. He wanted his disciples to remember that during his meals there is never any shortage. There is always enough for everyone.

Let’s take a look at a third detail - the charcoal fire which was burning on the shore before the disciples landed their boat. So, who lit the fire? It had to be Jesus because he was the only person on the shore. Why did he do that? To show once again that he is the host for the meal. When he multiplied the loaves and fishes on the hillside, he was the host and on the seashore, he is the host again. Jesus was the host for both of those sacred meals.

And this serves as a reminder for us that Jesus is the host for the sacred meal that we will share at the altar today. Jesus will provide the food. He will give us a share in his divine life by giving us his body, the Bread of Life.

Shortly after the sacred meal on the seashore, Jesus ascended into heaven. Then his disciples began to build a faith community; a community which included people of all ages from all walks of life. And to make this happen they had to leave Jerusalem and become missionaries.

There is a legend that says that one missionary was trying to bring Christianity to a military officer and his troops. He found them huddled in their barracks because it was a cold and rainy day. The officer said to the missionary: “Tell me about the meaning of life.” The missionary was caught by surprise because he did not expect that he would be invited into a philosophical discussion. Just then a sparrow flew into the room. It circled around a few times and then flew out the window.

The missionary said, “Life is like the sparrow that we just saw flying around this room. When it was outside it was cold and wet and when it was in this room it was nice and warm. And that is true for me.” The missionary said. “When I’m close to God I’m nice and warm and when I’m distant from God I’m feeling very cold. I’m close to God whenever I pray and follow God’s commandments. I’m distant from God whenever I don’t pray and don’t keep myself focused on doing God’s will.

So, life is basically a choice. Do I want to be warm or do I want to be cold? Do I want to be close to God or do I want to be distant from God?”

That story helps me to understand today’s First Reading. The disciples were hauled into court and the high priest said, “We gave you strict orders to stop teaching people about Jesus. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with that teaching.” Peter and the other disciples said in reply, “We must obey God rather than the Sanhedrin. We have made our decision. We have made our choice. We will continue to tell people that God raised Jesus from the dead after you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God has exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.”

Then the Sanhedrin told them for the second time, “Stop teaching in the name of Jesus.” But the disciples stuck to their commitment. All day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they continued to teach and proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah.

I will conclude by calling to mind the lessons that I see in today’s Bible readings. When Jesus goes fishing for people, he has a net that is so big that it can include everyone. There is room for everyone in his circle of friendship.

Does that mean that everyone currently is his friend? No. We have free will. Jesus does not force us into his circle of friendship. Jesus says to us, “Life is basically a choice between me and the world. Jesus says: I bring you life and the world brings you spiritual death. I will lead you to a warm place because I will lead you to a warm, intimate relationship with God. The world will lead you to cold place because it leads you away from God.”

So, Jesus gives us a choice. Do we want to be attached to him or do we want to be attached to the world? Let’s think about the sparrow in the warm room and the sparrow out in the cold. And let’s pray for the grace that we need to keep our lives centered on Christ.

Why? Because he is the one who helps us to have a warm, loving relationship with God.

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