(Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/NEDO1KfGs4c)
1After [he appeared to his followers in Jerusalem,] Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
In his book, In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado tells a story about an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before — such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.
People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.
One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”
The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”
The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact is that your horse is gone is a curse.”
The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”
The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. he lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”
The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?
“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”
“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.
“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”
The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”
It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.
“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”
The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”
What Mr. Lucado so eloquently illustrated with his story is the importance of perspective. Perspective matters. How we view situations matters. But sometimes how we view situations can be wrong. We, like the townspeople, can be too quick to judge situations as curses rather than blessings. We judge other situations as blessings that eventually turn out as curses. We can’t ever really know if a situation is a curse or blessing. Only God can know. Only God can turn a cursed situation into a blessed one and vice versa. Only God can help us to see how He sees. Perspective matters…God’s perspective matters as the old man in the story taught us.
Our readings for this morning have several characters wrestling with perspectives. In our first reading, we hear the infamous story of Saul’s conversion. Recall that Saul was a man who was determined in his persecution of Christians. He hated Christians and thought they were nothing more than self-righteous troublemakers, a threat to the Roman order. He publicly criticized and belittled Christians and encouraged their persecution. Recall he was standing nearby at the execution of Stephen, not directly throwing the stones himself but certainly supporting the behavior. No, Saul was a man who despised Christians for nothing more than their mere faith. Christians had never harmed him personally yet he made it his personal mission to harm them for their faith. Then, on the road to Damascus, he encountered Christ and was blinded. He no longer had a perspective! But God in His infinite mercy sent Ananias, a faithful disciple, to give Saul his sight back. And not just his sight but also a new perspective. Having a personal encounter with Christ changed Saul. He could no longer justify his persecution of faithful Christians. He could no longer see Christians as a threat. He saw the love of God in Christ and was forever changed by it. He was changed from Saul, the great persecutor, to Paul, the great apostle and believer. Perspective matters…God’s perspective matter.
How about John’s vision in his letter of Revelation? He writes, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” Like Saul, John had a unique vision and perspective. Christ is seated on throne and worshipped by thousands and thousands of angels. Christ, the lamb who was savagely and unjustifiably murdered, is seated on the throne and worshipped for his love and sacrifice. Jesus went to the cross for nothing more than love. Jesus loves us. Jesus died for us. Those who live beyond this world saw what Jesus did and continues to do. They saw that Jesus came back to us in spite of what we did to him. Is John’s vision his own or is it God’s? Could he have seen it without God’s help? Perspective matters…God’s perspective matter.
How about the disciples in today’s gospel reading? They had returned to their boats after the death of Jesus. They were reminiscing about the times they shared with Jesus. They were depressed and hopeless. And their fishing reflected their attitudes. They could hardly catch any fish. Along came Jesus and he tells them to change their technique, casting the nets on the opposite side of the boat. They again catch a large number of fish and their hope is revived. Jesus changed not only their technique but their attitude. Jesus is hopeful. Jesus is different. Jesus is loving. Perspective matters…God’s perspective matter.
Like those early disciples, we are called to live according to God’s perspective, not our own. We are called to live hopeful, loving lives. We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us. Jesus was sitting on the throne, worshipped by countless angels for his love and sacrifice, but chose to come back to us and walks among us today. We are called to serve Jesus and to spread the good news about Jesus’ resurrection just as Paul did once he was converted. Yes, our perspectives matter on whatever situation we find ourselves in but not nearly as much as God’s perspective. God sees our situations differently and God can change our situations in a heartbeat. As we continue on our Easter journey, let us work at seeing our situations as God sees them. God helps us to see as He sees. Let us walk humbly yet assuredly, boldly asking God to…open our eyes to see.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.