A Provocation: Third Sunday of Easter: John 21:1-19

Some Questions:

  • Why is this resurrection appearance so different from the scene involving Doubting Thomas?
  • If they knew it was the Lord, why did no one dare to ask?
  • What do these scenes suggest about the nature of the resurrection?

Some Longer Reflections:

Thomas dared to ask for evidence.  In the scene for next Sunday, no one dares to ask.  The contrast between these scenes is striking.  Maybe the reason for their difference is found in the way the Thomas scene ends, with an endorsement of people who believe without seeing.

If that is true, I do not like the way these scenes are drifting toward requiring blind faith, or simple gullibility.

There are, of course, all the fish.  Perhaps the storyteller wants the audience to see the pile of 153 unexpected fish as proof of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.  I will still be nervous about such a narrative solution.

But the language of the scene fights against that solution.  The problem is not that people saw a pile of fish as evidence of the resurrection of the messiah.

The problem is that no one dared to ask.

Why not dare?

I worry that such a narrative solution reveals a dangerous queasiness at the base of the storyteller’s understanding of resurrection.  I know religious people who evince absolute certainty about all the fundamentals of their faith.  Everyone knows those people.  And I have listened to such people long enough and often enough to have come to expect that their certainty increases as their hidden uncertainty grows.

If faithfulness comes down to being able to muster a truly impressive faith, then faithfulness will always build itself on quicksand.  If faithfulness finally comes down to loud assertions of absolute belief (in all the right things and in nothing else), then faithfulness will always look more like desperation than like a virtue.

At least to me.

Maybe to you, too.

I think that this is the point at which religion goes wrong.

I think this is where especially American Christianity takes leave of the Bible (and of our kinship with the Jewish faith with whom we share much of the Bible) and transforms itself into a sociological defense mechanism: you can belong to this “safe group” only so long as you (can pretend to) BELIEVE everything.

Many years ago now, I watched as a gentle, faithful Christian, one of the last people to contract polio, was torn to shreds by a well-known faith healer.  The woman, in public, in front of a crowd who knew her,  a crowd who knew that she only wanted to believe that she could walk again without spasticity, she was told (in a loud, ringing baritone voice, the sure sign of godly authority) that there was no doubt that God could heal polio, so the problem had to be that the woman was actually a secret, desperate sinner, guilty of worse crimes than the faith healer dared to imagine.

He said exactly that.

He was protecting his livelihood.  He was defending his god (in case you are wondering, I will not use a capital letter for such a diminutive deity).  He was making the ability to believe foolish and dangerous things the price of receiving wholeness and health and a smooth gait when walking.  He made this kind of blind and ignorant belief into the requirement imposed by God, the way to demonstrate faithfulness.

If the scene with the 153 fish thinks of belief the way the loud faith healer did, I want no part of it.

If believing in the resurrection is a challenge, a test, a requirement that must be met with great enthusiasm before God will deign to listen, then I’m not much interested in such a god.  The best such a god can offer is a “how-to-succeed-in-business” slogan suitable for a cheesy meme on Facebook.

So, how else could we think (and preach) about resurrection?

  • What if the scene with the fish reveals something about the hopes we discover in the story of the resurrection?
  • What if the tension between “knowing and not daring” is not a demand for unreasoning faith, but rather a revelation of the ambiguity that faith always involves?

The disciples know that there is something remarkably hopeful that just happened.  The messiah who was murdered by Rome is alive.  This hopefulness has nothing to do with ersatz religious enthusiasm or desperately asserted belief in life out of death.

But at the same time, the hopefulness was aware of the impossibility of life out of death.  Without that awareness, in fact, it would not be hopeful.  This awareness is crucial.

It seems to me that honest faith always involves an awareness of impossibility, of doubt.  It seems to me that real faith is aware of its own limits, and of the real complications that come with real life in the real world.  It seems to me that faithfulness is the key, not desperate “faith” or dishonest “belief.”

A quick glance at Micah 6 would have cleared things up a bit.

If the scene for this coming Sunday is read as requiring dishonesty about doubt, it is a dangerous text, of little use for people who have learned that real life is complicated.  To such people, a god who requires us to pretend is no God worthy of the name.

When the question on the table concerns what God requires, the answer given by the prophet, Micah, is straight to the point: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

There is no mention of daring to believe crazy things, no hint that belief is a contest that lets you into the Christian community, or kicks you out.

So, when in the grip of hope and uncertainty, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with a God who is actually worthy of that name.



Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

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