One amusing story from my childhood concerns the time I was fishing on the black sand beach at Oakura, near my hometown of New Plymouth, New Zealand. I managed to hook a small sole fish and took it back to our rented summer cottage to present to my mother. She cooked it that evening and presented one half to my father and the other half to me. My father’s portion of the fish included the fish’s small entrails as they had not been taken out before cooking. I scored the nicer half of the fish to the family’s delight.
In this Easter season I am reminded of one of Jesus’ post-Resurrection experiences in John’s gospel. It is the story of Jesus inviting his fishermen-disciples to share a fish breakfast with him on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. (I hope someone cleaned his fish!) It is the only mention of Jesus as a cook and some writers suggest this meal may have had Eucharistic significance for early Christians as he shared bread and fish with the disciples as he had done in earlier miracles.
Fr Robert J. Schreiter writes about this story in his book 'The Ministry of Reconciliation, Spirituality & Strategies' and for him this story “recapitulates the whole ministry of reconciliation.” He reminds the reader that the shocked disciples had left Jerusalem behind after Jesus’ arrest, torture and execution to try and return to a normal life in Galilee. For Peter and some of the others a normal life meant fishing. They would have hoped that returning to fishing would help them heal their recent traumatic experiences but it did not work as at first they caught nothing.
Many people throughout the world today are trying to escape trauma including after release from prison or escaping persecution as refugees or as victims of sexual or domestic violence. They too want to escape the pain they have endured and seek healing of those memories.
As we have been recently reminded from the victims’ accounts of child sexual abuse and of sexual harassment, many have great difficulty overcoming the scars of their painful past. No matter how hard they try, like the disciples who went fishing, it may take a long time to succeed. Sometimes it takes an encounter with a stranger to try their ‘fishing’ or other forms of healing in another place in order to break the cycle they find themselves in.
Fr Robert J. Schreiter suggests in his book that: “It is only by being freed from the obsession with what they had hoped would be a familiar groove of routine, that they are able to recognize who has been standing on the shore.” In this simple Gospel story I think Jesus presents us with a good role model for our Church today to reach out to victims of different traumas and to offer hospitality and companionship to those in need.
The front cover of Fr Schreiter’s book features the painting by Piero della Francesca of Jesus rising from the dead. Jesus looks a little dazed or bewildered as though to say “What is happening here?” Fr Schreiter reminds the reader that the experience of rising from the dead would take some getting used to and the experience of resurrection life has nothing with which it can be compared. In the other appearance stories we note Jesus’ body is glorified but the scars of his torture remain as though to link him forever to his passion and death.
Schreiter says: “In this, Jesus is like every survivor who must bear the burden of those wounds for the rest of his or her life.” The difference may be that Jesus is able to talk freely about his wounds “because they are no longer a source of pain and painful memory but now wounds that heal” as in the case of the troubled soul of people like Thomas.
Fr Brian Vale
LISTEN TO: From the Director - Post resurrection experiences
(Duration: 4:49mins, MP3: 2:20MB)
- Read more from The Far East, April 2018