Third Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2019)
A Scripture teacher, Neal Flanagan, taught us that the term “charcoal fire” appears in two places in John’s Gospel. The two charcoal fires form brackets, bookends, to the story of Peter’s poignant experience with Jesus before his Ascension. I did some further checking and discovered that those are the only times that the word “charcoal” occurs throughout both the Old and New Testaments!
That got me started on further study. “Charcoal fire” appears for the first time in Chapter 18 of John’s Gospel. Jesus had been arrested. Peter was in the courtyard during Jesus’ questioning. It was at night. Some were gathered around the charcoal fire, warming themselves. Three times peter was identified as a companion of Jesus; three times he denied it.
John’s gospel is filled with symbolism. “Night,” in John, indicates a darkness of the light of knowing – as shown earlier in Nicodemus, the Pharisee, who spoke with Jesus “at night” before his conversion, as shown later in Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb “before dawn” in the predawn darkness.
Peter, when asked if he was with Jesus, replied, “I do not know the man.” Darkness! Jesus would say a few hours later from the cross, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing. John uses “at night, before dawn” to indicate a state of not knowing, being in the dark.
John’s Gospel has an epilogue, Chapter 21. We heard a wonderful passage from it today. The time is dawn – the beginning of the light of day. The setting is the Lake of Geneserath, a sparkling emerald jewel of a lake, lying below the mountains of Galilee where Jesus multiplied bread and fish. Bread and fish appeared there again that morning.
Jesus is there by the shore, standing, grilling fish, and perhaps toasting bread over a charcoal fire. Peter and his seven companions have experienced catching nothing without Jesus’ presence. “I am going fishing . . .We will go with you said peter and the seven, earlier. Do you hear ego in the “I” and “we.” There is no mention of Jesus. Interesting! When Jesus became present to them on the beach, an enormous catch was made. Jesus’ absence, no fish; Jesus’ presence, fish
Breakfast with Jesus grilling on a charcoal fire must have been awkward for the apostles. Also, Jesus looked somewhat the same and somewhat different. Remember, in his resurrected body, he was mistaken as the gardener by Mary and as a stranger by two disciples on the Emmaus road.
After breakfast, Jesus speaks to Peter, who has been haunted since his denial. He does not ask peter for an apology, a pledge of allegiance, or a testimony of faith. He already knows Peter’s sorrow and repentance. Jesus simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Love is Jesus’ only question. John Shea and Richard Rohr offer helpful reflections. Although it is often ignored, we humans have a spiritual core. The ancients placed it in our gut. If we are the salt of the earth or light in darkness, it is there; if not, we have “lost our flavor” or put our light “under a bushel basket.”
John had recognized him with the eyes of love while they were still offshore in the boat.
Jesus calls Peter and each of us to this spiritual center where we may have an elevated form of consciousness. It takes long-term, continual effort to sustain this consciousness. Why? Because our ego’s like to be in charge and crowd out our spiritual consciousness. Remember, peter who, at first, would not let Jesus wash his feet. Remember peter when he denied he knew Jesus because his own safety was in jeopardy. That was ego, not Jesus-consciousness.
How is our ego dislodged? Loving deeply! Loving another mysteriously supplants our selfish ego. We know that from our life experience. Such it is with Jesus and ourselves.
Jesus used that fact when he asked peter the triple “do you love me?” If we have love in our spiritual center, replacing ego, then we have salt; we have light in our gut.
It is likely that Jesus saw a large ego in Peter and knew that if Peter could supplant his ego with a clear love of Jesus the Christ in his heart / gut, that he would be an outstanding leader. He would be able to feed Jesus’ lambs, feed his sheep. When Jesus saw that Peter acknowledged him, he could and did say for the second time: “Follow me.”
We are faced with the same question. Will we love and allow Jesus the Christ to transform our gut from being egoistic to “Living Jesus”? That is the major question of Eastertide.