April 18, 2010

Easter III (C)

This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. – John 21: 14

Three is one of those symbolic numbers meaning “just right,” just right to make something complete. As in those Jesuit-Dominican-Franciscan jokes, or an Irishman-an Italian-a Jew jokes, there are always three because three is just right for the tension. Two is not enough & four is too much. It has nothing to do with a unit of measurement; it’s a cryptic, symbolic sign that has everything to do with making just the right point.

The passion-death-resurrection story of Jesus has a right point to make & so it uses three all the time. Jesus returns to His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane three times. He takes three apostles with him on the mount of Transfiguration. Peter denies Him three times. Three are crucified together on Calvary . The threes of these stories are just sufficient to get our attention & emphasize the depth of what is going on.

After His resurrection Jesus appears three times in the guise of a gardener, a housebreaker & a chef. All three appearances coincide with the threefold-times of grief, discouragement & hunger. He appears to Mary Magdalene who is so full of grief that she thinks Jesus is the gardener. He breaks through the locked doors to the discouraged apostles listlessly wondering where to go from there. Finally, in today’s Gospel He appears on the shoreline as a chef with food for the apostles who were trying to go back to their former lives, but their hearts aren’t in it. They were hungry for something more.

The three appearances are just enough to make the point: Jesus has been raised up & will ever be there to counter those three things: grief, discouragement & spiritual hunger.

First, grief. Pick any tragedy beyond words such as earthquakes, school shootings, the 9/11 attack. Notice how those who relentlessly work at removing any mention of God or religion from the public square fall silent & threaten no lawsuit as every publicly elected official, anchors & commentators on television, openly & ceaselessly promise prayers to the affected, implicitly acknowledging a God to be prayed to.

Some things are too large for the human mind to understand or for prejudice to challenge. Stunned before such massive evil beyond any rational explanation, we instinctively & humbly fall to our knees. We are like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, full of questions & tears. We have to trust that somehow the one who told Mary not to weep over her loss is not unmindful of our loss, our tears, our shock. It is in grief time that Jesus makes His appearance in many mysterious ways.

Discouragement. The disciples in the upper room were completely empty, numb, discouraged. Could Jesus not have prevented His own death? Did He lie to them? Where was He when they needed Him most? We always ask these questions in time of tragedy. Like the disciples, we’re behind the impenetrable doors of doubt & fear, asking what’s happening to us as a nation. But Jesus penetrated those doors & uttered His one word of hope :shalom, peace. He breathes into us His Spirit & lets us know that pain & death are not the last words & that we now abide with a Spirit who will not abandon us. Just as He spoke peace to them then, He does so to us now.

Hunger. On the road to Emmaus the two hungry disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. On the shoreline, Jesus is calmly setting up a cookout for them, for He knew they were hungry. For what? Not just food, but for answers, for meaning. Life is not, & cannot be, about endless consumption, conceit & competition. We do not live on bread alone, even with 75 varieties to choose from. We are hungry for relationships that do not exploit, friendships that do not betray, & a God who is willing to make all things new again, even out of senseless tragedies.

Our Lord’s cookout is not an answer but a reassurance, i.e., His life, teaching, death & resurrection are nourishment even, maybe especially, in times of tragedy. This is a Gospel made for today, highlighting three fundamental human emotions – grief, discouragement, hunger. It is also a Gospel of three appearances – do not weep, shalom, come & eat. Three words, just right for these troubled times. AMEN!