No evangelist better contrasts the actions of Jesus' disciples before and after His resurrection than Luke. Notice in Sunday's first reading (Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41) how Peter, who quickly denied Jesus before His crucifixion, now bravely steps froward and publicly professes faith in Him after His resurrection.

Following the conviction of all early Christian writers, Luke believes that conversion is an essential step for anyone who dares to follow Jesus.

But also notice that the conversions which Luke narrates never flow simply from someone accepting the superiority of Christian intellectual arguments over other intellectual arguments. In the Christian Scriptures, conversions take place only when people recognize the risen Jesus in their everyday lives.

Experience

Though all Christians would include themselves among "the countless number" in the second reading (Rev. 5: 11-14) who cry out, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing!" The author of this famous apocalyptic work believes that a person realizes the importance of Jesus only after experiencing Jesus.

We hear one such experience graphically narrated in the Gospel (Jn 21: 1-19). Scholars disagree on whether the author responsible for the first 20 chapters of John also wrote chapter 21. The fourth Gospel originally ended with chapter 20. Chapter 21 was added later as an appendix to straighten out some ambiguities about the roles which Peter and the Beloved Disciple exercised in their first-century Christian communities.

Ironically, in addressing this leadership problem, the author of John 21 passes on what is probably the earliest account we possess of someone experiencing the risen Jesus.

In its pre-Gospel form, the narrative describes seven of Jesus' disciples, recently returned to Galilee from their disastrous Jerusalem Passover pilgrimage. There's no indication any of them yet realize meaning of the empty tomb that some women in their group reported finding. Like everyone who experiences a loved one's death, they mope around, refusing to engage in anything they did while Jesus was still part of their lives. They believe that returning to the way things were before would be admitting that Jesus really hadn't made a difference for them. Any such act would be an act of infidelity to their loved one's memory.

Return to normal

Peter finally breaks the pattern, announcing he's returning to what he always did: he's going back to fishing. The other six immediately join him.

This return to their normal occupation sets the stage for conversion. Eventually, they come to understand that the stranger on the shore, directing them to a tremendous catch, actually is "the Lord." They recognize Him while they're doing what they always did.

Though most Catholics zero in on the part of the narrative which stresses Peter's rehabilitation as a leader, John's original community would also have reflected on what happens immediately after the disciples get out of the boat: They eat a meal with Jesus.

The earliest Christian community had a thing about meals. Though later followers of Jesus narrowed the Eucharist into a formal ritual in which everyone shares just a small piece or bread and a sip of wine, His first disciples celebrated His resurrected presence with a full-blown meal. And within that meal they "realized...the Lord" was among them. They believed an action which all humans perform daily is the action in which we most deeply experience Jesus.

Perhaps we modern Christians, steeped in religious ritual, need to be converted to the normal and the everyday. The things we long most to avoid and rise above are almost always where the risen Jesus steps into out lives.

(04-26-01)