Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 9 April 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Reflection for Friday 9 April 2021. John 21:1-14

This text opens up an opportunity for us to look at the mystery of the Church. What is the Church? From the New Testament we know that the Church is the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. The Church is not so much an ornament as it is a Temple made up of living stones i.e. you, me and a host of others of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, cultures and with varying degrees of holiness, commitment, and even brokenness.

Whenever we examine a mystery that is deep and complex it becomes helpful to use imagery and that is exactly what the Apostolic Fathers did when they sought to understand the mystery of the Church. I want to mention three images and amplify one of these. The Fathers presented the Church using the image of Sun and Moon saying that just as the Moon reflects the light of the Sun, the Church too ought to reflect the light of Christ. The second image used by the Fathers is that of Mother. Using maternal categories they explained that the Church generates new life through the womb of the baptismal font, nourishes this life on the breasts of the Old Testament and the New Testament, feeds us with the finest wheat, pours oil on our wounds when we are ill, forgives us with tenderness, and in general, takes care of us from the womb to the tomb.

The third image and one which I want to amplify is that of boat. It is hardly an accident that the main gathering space in the Church building is called the nave – from the Latin ‘navis’ meaning ship. In earlier times boats were made of wood and the Apostolic Fathers felt that just as we are saved from sin by the wood of the Cross, we are saved from the storms of this world by the wood of the boat. This image of boat for the Church was no apostolic thumb suck. They had a love for the Scriptures and would have known that the word for the ark by which Noah was saved (Genesis 6:14) is the same word that Scripture uses for the basket by which Moses was saved (Exodus 2:5). This word became a symbol by which God saves through water. Notice in the New Testament how Jesus would urge the disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side (Matthew 14:22 and parallel texts). Notice that Jesus got into the boat, sat down (whenever a Jewish Rabbi sat down it meant that what he was to say was important) and taught the crowds from there (Luke 5:3). Notice also that it was Peter’s boat.

In today’s passage Peter wants to go fishing (John 21:3). The verb indicates that this was not merely a Sunday afternoon fishing trip – he wanted to go fishing on an ongoing basis. He was a fisherman before Jesus got a hold of him and after the crucifixion he wanted to go back to his old way of life. There were seven apostles in Peter’s boat that day (John 21:2). (Seven is the number of perfection for the Jews). They caught nothing and Jesus appears (John 21:3-4). He is never far from his Church when it is in need. He asks a question which the English translates as: “Caught anything friends?” (John 21:5). In the original he asks: “Anything to eat?” From the form of the verb it is clear that he wants to know: “how will you sustain yourselves on an ongoing basis?” or “How will you be nourished each day?”. And then he took them back to how he touched them the first time – “drop your net on the other side” (John 21:6) and the results were astounding. Whereas Peter starts off by wanting to go back to business as usual, after encountering the risen Lord he learns that it can never be business as usual. He jumps into the water. This was risky, as the last time he did this he nearly drowned (Matthew 14:29-30). They caught a number of big fish. 

This text must be read alongside Luke 5:1-11 and the similarities and differences must be noted. In the text prior to the resurrection i.e. the Lucan text, there are two boats and two nets. In today’s passage there is one boat and one net. In the Lucan text they netted many of the same kind of fish but in today’s passage there are many of several kinds of fish – remember “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 7:9). Whereas in the Lucan text the nets began to tear (Luke 5:6), in today’s passage describing as it does what happens after the resurrection, the net did not tear (John 21:11). That is simply an indication that in spite of numerous weaknesses that Church will not fail. Just as his physical body was torn and bleeding on the Cross and not one of his bones was broken (John 19:33-36) – so too with his mystical body the Church; torn apart at times through defections and scandals – not one of her bones will be broken. The Church will not fail simply because it is the Church of Christ.

Let us pray: Father, thank you for the gift of the new life of the risen Christ which he makes available to us. Thank you for Easter joy. Thank you for nourishing us through your Church and help us to be worthy members of so great a mystery. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].