Characteristics of the Early Christian Community: Service, Fellowship, and Feast
On Maundy Thursday, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve prisoners, reenacting Jesus washing the feet of the disciples before his crucifixion. Inspired by the story of the Last Supper of John, this practice is an act of love and a reminder of how all people, especially leaders, should devote themselves to the needs of others, especially those who are marginalized and underserved.
“Jesus came and took bread and gave it to them, together with the fish” (Jn 20:13).
Third Sunday of Easter (C)
Acts 5:27-41; PS 30; Rev 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
What can you do to better serve the world?
What does it take to be an effective leader?
How important is the belief in the resurrection in your life?
According to John, after the resurrection, Jesus appears to a group of disciples while they are fishing in the Sea of Galilee. As the disciples find no fish, Jesus gives instructions and blesses them with a big catch. Today’s gospel echoes the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as Jesus miraculously enables the disciples to catch an overabundance of fish. The account may also sound familiar, as Luke has a similar story that occurs early in Jesus’ ministry when he calls his disciples.
The Gospel states that the disciples do not immediately recognize Jesus outwardly, which is also the case when Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ. Mary only recognized Jesus after calling her name. Today’s gospel disciples only recognize Jesus after he teaches them, and they catch fish. Only then does the beloved disciple declare, “It is the Lord. Jesus’ behavior reveals who he is, not his appearance.
The fact that Jesus is consistently unrecognizable after the resurrection can help us reflect on what the resurrection means and how it changes our understanding of Christ. The physical presence of Jesus is such that his disciples do not see him in the same way. Moreover, Jesus reveals himself through his words and deeds, and the resurrection transforms the way Jesus’ followers see him. By meeting the risen Jesus, the disciples strengthen their relationship with him and prepare for their own missionary work in the light of the resurrection.
As the story continues, Jesus prepares breakfast for his disciples. The account is detailed, suggesting that Jesus lit a fire, cooked fish, invited the group to eat, and shared food with them. Jesus ministers to his disciples, similar to the care he gave when washing their feet at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John does not contain an account of Jesus breaking bread and sharing wine at the Last Supper, but in today’s Gospel we see Jesus breaking bread and fish with his disciples. This too echoes Jesus in the Gospel of Luke as he shares a meal of fish with his disciples after the resurrection.
This tradition emphasizes service, fellowship and feasting, and Jesus imbues these principles in the early Christian community. Jesus strengthens his bond with his disciples and shows how to serve by preparing, sharing and nourishing the disciples. In the longer option in today’s Gospel, Jesus has a one-on-one meeting with Peter in which he says that if Peter loves him, he must: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep. This instruction, especially to Peter whose selection by Jesus becomes the model for the office of the pope, has possibilities of literal and metaphorical interpretation. As Jesus has just modeled food as a form of care and service, Jesus tells Peter to do the same for his community, supporting and supporting the physical needs of his followers. Likewise, as a metaphor for leadership, Jesus asks Peter to provide spiritual care and sustenance.
Today’s gospel shows Jesus rooting the community of faith in service. Jesus speaks through his actions that benefit others, setting a model of service that all of us, especially leaders, should take seriously.