Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I read and studied this week's readings, I kept thinking how different Peter and Paul were. And yet, both were called by Jesus to lead the disciples and make disciples at the beginning of Christianity.
Before he met Jesus, Peter was a fisherman – uneducated, but hard working – and he was pretty successful. Peter and his brother were in business with the Zebedee family, James and John, and their father, fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He lived in Capernaum with his wife and mother-in-law, and his brother Andrew. Then Jesus called him to become a fisher of men, and he left everything behind to follow him. Peter became the leader of the disciples, but he also denied three times that he knew Jesus after Jesus had been arrested. Peter didn't know what to do in the days after the Resurrection. True, they had seen Jesus several times, but they still didn’t know what to do. Not knowing what to do, Peter decides to do something familiar, something he at least knows how to do. “I'm going fishing,” he says. The others follow him. Sometimes when you don't know what to do, you just have to do something familiar - something you can do without thinking. The fishing didn’t go well, but at least they weren't just sitting around waiting.
Then as the sun comes up, a man calls to them from the shore, “How’s the fishing?” When he hears that they have caught nothing all night, he says, “Put the nets back out on the other side of the boat.” The disciples must have thought “Why not?” When they do, they catch so many fish the nets are straining to hold the catch. That’s when they realize who it is on the beach. Peter jumps from the boat to get to Jesus. What follows is a fish and bread breakfast. After they have eaten, I imagine Jesus drawing Peter aside, away from the others so that they can talk. “Peter, do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks him. Is it because of Peter's three denials? Maybe in forgiving Peter three times, Jesus is helping Peter forgive himself, and restoring Peter to his position of leadership. “Feed my lambs, Peter, tend my sheep, even the sheep you don't yet know.”
Paul, also known as Saul, on the other hand, led a very different life than Peter's. He was raised in a well-to-do family. At least wealthy enough to send Saul to study religion with one of the most revered rabbis. Because of where he was born, Paul was also a Roman citizen, which gave him privileges denied to other Jews. Because he was educated as a Pharisee, Saul was zealous in his faith. He saw this new religion, these followers of Jesus, as a threat to Judaism. Saul was actually on the road to Damascus with papers from the High priest in Jerusalem, giving him authority to round up any following the Way (which are what the first Christians were called) and bring them back to be punished. Then Jesus knocks him flat on his butt saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” Blinded by the light of Christ, Paul is sent into the city, to wait. After waiting three days, Ananias comes to Saul, reluctantly. Afraid of how he has persecuted others, he not only gives Paul his sight back, but he also ministers to him. Paul is given new eyes and a new way of seeing. Paul learns to see through the eyes of Christ, and is called to proclaim the Good News. Paul is commissioned by Jesus to call all people to the Way of Jesus.
In these two readings, we see two very different men - both broken, in their own way - called to follow Jesus and share the Good News. Just like Paul, we can find ourselves being led in a new direction, called to do things we would never have thought we would do. The people we thought of as outsiders, or even enemies, are the ones Jesus calls us to serve. We like to think we don’t actually have real enemies. We are, after all, nice people. But there are people we do not want to associate with, people who we consider not the right kind of people. But these are the very people Jesus calls us to reach out to. Like Peter, we just don’t know what to do. So, we do what’s familiar. And in the familiar surroundings of our faith community, we see, again, that the church casts a wide net - a net that includes all of us and everyone outside our walls, as well. And we are called to welcome those who feel rejected, those who suffer from poverty, mental illness, or fear.
"Do you love me?" Jesus whispers. "Come with me."
Come with me and together, we will go to those you used to see as weird or scary. I am with you as you go in my Name, sharing my love and bring everyone you meet into my net – where all are welcome, comforted, and loved. Amen.