LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR
April 19, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr.
The Apostle John lived a long life, and he wrote his Gospel long after the Synoptics were composed and in circulation. John was the youngest of the apostolic band. He sat next to Jesus during the final Passover dinner and addressed the four questions to the host beginning with, “Why is this night different than every other night.” According to Eusebius he lived into the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98 -117 AD). Peter and Paul had been martyred by Nero in about 68 AD. John was exiled to the Island of Patmos by Domitian (81 – 96 AD), but released by his successor Nerva (96 – 98 AD). It is likely he wrote his Gospel after returning to his pastoral duties as Bishop of the Asian circuit. This would make John at least in his 80’s upon his return to Asia after Patmos and the writing of the Revelation.
One can tell from the Gospel account those events which stand out in John’s mind. They are the stories he tells in considerable detail and considers very important. His last chapter, chapter 21, is a good example. It follows the second appearance of Jesus to his Disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem where Thomas declares of Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Some commentators have suggested this is really the conclusion of John’s Gospel and that chapter 21 is an addition by an early editor. However, a careful reading makes clear that John is not finished. There is one more message to convey; one more story to tell.
The scene is in Galilee, and the seven fishermen among the Disciples have decided to spend the night on the water. Their families were in the business, and they may have needed the money. They come up empty and toward dawn they started toward shore. Jesus met them while they were about 100 yards out, and asked them about their catch. He advised them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and they caught so many fish they could not draw the net into the boat. John remembers the exact number of fish, 153.
This story is very close to my heart and mind because I have stood many times in the place where tradition says the event took place. However its importance is in the emphasis it places on the mission that stands before these disciples. They had been called to be fishers of men. They could expect great success as they are obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their task. The catch will often be in unforeseen places. Jesus will be with them in their task.
They have been in training. They have not always been right. They have made mistakes. Their faith has failed at times, but now they are ready. The words of Jesus to Peter to “Feed my sheep” is not alone for him, but for all the Apostles. The mission to take the Good News to the ends of the earth is about to commence. Some of them will die as martyrs in the work of the Kingdom. Others will live long lives. This will be determined by the Lord of the Church, the King of Kings.
John looks back at this interview beside the Lake in Galilee. He is an old man. He has been privileged to serve his Lord for many years. The Church is now planted throughout the Mediterranean world. It has penetrated the Middle East into Persia and India. The divine net has captured the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands. John is still busy shepherding the flock of God. He closes his Gospel with the challenge to keep close to this first love, this devotion to spreading the good news that Jesus died, paying the debt divine justice required. He was raised to life by his Father, assuring the world that the no payment remained. Death was conquered. All that was now necessary was that we trust in the Conqueror and receive the gift of eternal life.
(Bill Scarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org) END-whs