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Commentaries on the Readings: 1 Peter 5:5b-14; Ps 88; Mark 16:15-20
Ironically, the Gospel reading is from a passage at the end of Mark’s gospel, a section that is thought to be an added supplement to his original text. It is believed that Mark’s gospel ends with verse 8 of chapter 16 where we read: “So they [the women] went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” This seems to have been regarded as too abrupt an ending so brief summaries borrowed from other sources were added on, including, the appearance to Mary Magdalene (John), the appearance to two disciples “on their way to the country”, a clear reference to the disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke), the appearance of the Risen Jesus to the eleven apostles (Matthew, Luke and John), and Jesus taken up to heaven (Luke, Acts).
The reading is taken from the appearance to the Eleven where Jesus gives them the mandate to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world and where there is a promise that believers will be able to work wonders – expelling evil spirits, speaking in strange tongues, be protected from harmful elements and bring healing to the sick. The reading ends with a brief description of the Ascension when the Risen Jesus goes back to his Father’s right-hand side.
Mark, of course, through his gospel has spelt out the challenge for followers of Christ to imitate him in the living out of their discipleship and fulfilling the missionary command to establish the Kingdom where God’s will is being done on earth.
The First Reading from the last chapter of the First Letter of Peter contains instructions to the younger leaders of the community. The first instruction is that all should be eager to serve each other and not have some dominating over others. They are also warned to be on the watch for evil forces and be firm and strong in their faith. They need to realise that their brothers and sisters in faith are suffering in many places because of persecution. But in time God will strengthen them and put them on a firm foundation. Again, it was through his gospel, that Mark conveyed this message through his presentation of Jesus as establishing God’s Kingdom and also making clear that every follower of Jesus must identify with Jesus’ spirit of self-sacrifice and share in it. As Jesus accepted his cross and through his death passed to glory, so his followers too much carry their cross to share in the same glory
St Mark, Evangelist (Feast)
A John Mark first appears in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 12:12), after Peter was miraculously released from prison. When Peter realised that he was really free he made his way to the house of Mary, who was the mother of John Mark and whose house seems to have been a meeting place for Jerusalem Christians. At the end of the same chapter, we are told that Saul and Barnabas who had earlier gone to Jerusalem on a relief mission to provide food for the Christians there had returned to Antioch bringing John Mark with them. Soon after this, Barnabas and Paul were chosen by the community in Antioch to go on a missionary enterprise, known now as Paul’s First Missionary Journey. They sailed from the nearby port of Seleucia and went first to Salamis on the island of Cyprus. And they brought John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas, with them. From Salamis they went on to Paphos at the other end of the island, where they converted the governor to Christianity.
From Paphos the missionaries left Cyprus and went on to Perga, a city in Pamphylia, on the south coast of what is now Turkey. It was here we are told John Mark left Barnabas and Paul and returned to Jerusalem although the reason is not given. Later, when Barnabas and Saul were setting out on their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them. Paul, however, was not willing to take Mark because he had left them at Perga on their first mission. This caused a serious disagreement between Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas left Paul and, taking his cousin John Mark with him, went back to Cyprus. Paul then took Silas as his missionary companion.
Relations seem to have improved subsequently because in Paul’s Letter to the Christians at Colosse, Paul writes: “Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you greetings and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.” In the Second Letter to Timothy, Paul writes: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he can help me in the work…” In the short Letter to Philemon, Mark is cited as one of the helpers of Paul. And at the end of the First Letter of Peter we read: “Your sister church in Babylon [a code word for Rome], also chosen by God, sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.”
There is also a tradition that Mark was the founder of the Church in Alexandria, in northern Egypt.
The writing of the second gospel is also attributed to Mark but it is not absolutely certain that it is the same person. (The authorship of ancient texts is always tricky.) The gospel was probably written in Rome before 60 AD and there are certainly indications that John Mark was there at the time. It was written in Greek and directed to Gentile converts to Christianity. Tradition says that Mark was requested by the Christians of Rome to set down the teachings of Peter. This seems confirmed by the position which Peter has in this gospel. The gospel is thus understood as a record of the mission of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Peter. It is also the first gospel to be written and both Matthew and Luke in their longer gospels certainly borrow extensively from Mark. Mark’s gospel is one of the most lively and readable accounts with more emphasis on the actions of Jesus, where Jesus teaches more by what he does than what he says.
Commentary on Acts 4:1-12
The next stage in the mission of the disciples now takes place: after the proclamation and healing comes the persecution and harassment, as promised by Jesus.
As in the Gospel, we see the contrasting reactions between the Jewish leaders and the people. The leaders, mostly Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection after death, are objecting to the apostles’ teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and put them under arrest (together with the man they had healed).
Those arresting them include the priests, the captain of the Temple guard and Sadducees. The priests were those responsible for the Temple liturgies. The temple guard were composed of Levites and their captain ranked next to the high priest. The Sadducees, among other things, were drawn from the priestly families and from the upper classes. The high priest was one of their members. They tended to be pro-Rome and hence found Jesus and his followers a dangerous element. The Sadducees were strongly opposed to and by the Pharisees.
As it is late in the day Peter and John are thrown into jail for the night. The evening sacrifices ended about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the temple gates would be closed. Judgements involving life and death had to be begun and ended during daylight hours.
In spite of the religious authorities’ actions, many of the people who had heard Peter’s preaching did believe in his message and their numbers had swollen to 5,000, up from 3,000 on the day of Pentecost – an amazing number in such a short time.
On the following day Peter and John are made to stand before a meeting of the top leadership together with the high priest and members of his family. They are led by Annas. He was officially high priest from AD 6-15 but deposed by the Romans and succeeded by his son, Eleazar, and then by his son-in-law, Caiaphas (whom we meet during the account of Jesus’ passion). However, Annas was still recognised by the Jews as the real high priest. The John mentioned with him may be a son, while Alexander is otherwise unknown.
What strikes one in this scene is the boldness of Peter, when compared to his behaviour during the passion of Jesus. As Jesus had promised in his lifetime, Peter is filled with the Spirit which gives him both his courage and his eloquence to speak out boldly. What they have done, they tell their accusers, has been done in the name of Jesus, “the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. By this name and by no other…this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence today.”
Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter tells them that Jesus “is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone”. In general, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies was important in early Christian preaching. This is especially the case with Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, himself, is quoted as using this text about himself.
“There is no salvation through anyone else nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” The message is very clear. In the Roman world in the time of the Acts, salvation was often attributed to the emperor, often hailed as a ‘saviour’ and a ‘god’. Peter, however, affirms that real salvation can only come from Christ.
A passage like this gives us encouragement. First, we ought not be surprised that we will be mocked and attacked for our faith in Christ and his Gospel, and, secondly, we will be provided with what we need when faced with hostility and even persecution.
Commentary on John 21:1-14
Today we have a resurrection story which is unique to John and is in his final “extra” chapter, which may be a kind of appendix added on later by another author following the Johannine tradition. The text contains peculiarities which are closer to Luke’s style but others which are Johannine. It bears close resemblance to a similar story about a catch of fish in Luke (5:1-11) and another in Matthew where Peter gets out of the boat to go to Jesus (14:28-31). Although it seems added to the original text, the chapter appears in all extant manuscripts of John.
Like most of John’s accounts, it is a story full of symbolism.
We see a group of disciples, seven altogether, seemingly at a loose end with nothing to do. The seven are Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons (James and John) and two others of his disciples. Nathanael, who is only mentioned in John’s gospel, appears in John 1 as one who was called by Philip. This is the only mention of James and John in John’s gospel, although they have such a central role in the other three gospels. Some speculate John may be the second of the two disciples called by Jesus in John 1 (the one named is Andrew) but he could also be the Beloved Disciple, not yet ready to be so called. Of the two other disciples in the boat, one is presumed to be the Beloved Disciple who appears very soon in the story. The number seven suggests the fullness of the community. (John likes the number seven – seven signs performed by Jesus and seven ‘I AM’ statements.)
Peter, the leader, decides to make a move. “I’m going fishing.” It is what he knows best. The others go along with him. Is there an implication that the great enterprise that Jesus began is over and they return to their old way of living?
After a whole night on the lake they get nothing. (Aristotle tells us that night-time was favoured for fishing.) Is there also an echo of words spoken at the Last Supper, “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)?
As the light of dawn breaks Jesus is standing on the shore but, as usually happens in these post-resurrection scenes, they do not recognise him. He asks the question fishermen do not like to be asked, “Have you caught anything?” Reluctantly they have to admit, No. He then gives them some suggestions. On a natural level, it is possible he could see a movement of fish that was not visible from the boat but the real meaning is deeper. He will lead the fish to them as he will lead people to them later on.
After following Jesus’ instructions, they make a huge haul of fish, so many that they cannot be brought into the boat. The exact number is given: 153. Is that an actual memory or is there a special symbolism in the number? St Augustine thought the latter and made his own speculations. St Jerome saw it as an expression of the universalism of the Christian mission saying that the Greeks believed there were altogether 153 kinds of fish. The number is also the sum of the first 17 digits: 1+2+3…
The main point, however, is to emphasise God’s generosity, recalling the amount of water changed into wine at Cana, the amount left over after feeding the crowds in the desert, the abundance of life that the Good Shepherd gives and the fullness of the Spirit, life-giving water that guarantees we are never thirsty…
And the net was not broken. The net itself is, as in other texts, a symbol of the Kingdom of God.
This is all clearly a parable, a symbol of their future work as fishers of people, a work whose success will originate in the power of Jesus behind them and in their following what he tells them to do.
A similar incident had happened during Jesus’ earthly life and the “disciple Jesus loved” immediately saw the connection. He is the one with deeper insight into the presence and the ways of his Master. “It is the Lord!” he exclaims.
But if the “other disciple” was the one Jesus loved, it was Peter who was the one who loved Jesus. And it is Peter, the impetuous one, who reacts first. He was not wearing any clothes* so he throws something around himself and jumps into the water to get to Jesus, leaving the others to bring the boat and fish to the shore. Such is his anxiety to be close to his Lord. Says the New International Bible: “It is curious that he put on this garment (the word appears only here in the New Testament) preparatory to jumping into the water. But Jews regarded a greeting as a religious act that could be done only when one was clothed.”* Peter is responding to the call “It is the Lord” and hears it as pointing to Jesus as Someone special.
On the shore they find that Jesus has lit a fire. There is bread and some fish cooking. (Where did these fish come from? It is the kind of question we do not need to ask when reading a symbol-full passage like this.) “Bring the fish you have just caught.” “You”??? Yes, literally they had pulled the fish in but where had they originally come from? The same goes for much of what we claim to do. It is important to acknowledge God’s role in our actions, especially our “successes”.
In response to the command, it is Peter, the leader – now and in the future, who alone brings in the huge catch from the boat by the water’s edge. Peter alone dragging the net in is an image of the Kingdom coming (compare the parable in Matt 13:47ff). It also signifies the special position of Peter in the mission of the Apostles. Just now the whole group together could not haul the net into the boat.
Jesus then invites them to come and eat with him the meal he has prepared for them. Here, too, there are eucharistic overtones. Now as they stand close to the friendly stranger, no one dares to ask “Who are you?” because they know quite well it is the Lord, the risen Jesus. Again we are being taught to find the presence of the Lord in all those who are kind to us, who do good to us in any way and especially in those who share the eucharistic meal with us. Just as we are called to be Jesus to everyone that we encounter.
His identity in a way is now confirmed by his taking the bread and the fish and giving it to them to eat. He broke bread, he celebrated a Eucharist with them.
We have here then some central pillars of our faith:
- recognising Christ in the kindly stranger and playing that role ourselves;
- expressing our love and solidarity with each other through our celebration of the Eucharist and breaking bread together;
- working with the power of Jesus to fill the net that is the Kingdom, becoming truly fishers of people.
‘Not wearing any clothes’, that is, naked. Some of our translations use all kinds of euphemisms (e.g. ‘lightly clad’ New American Bible) to express this. Does it shock us that the first pope could go around like this? Male nakedness was much more acceptable in Peter’s society. A redeemed people should have no problem with an unclothed body. It was only after their sin that Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness. Jesus reversed that by dying naked on the cross. We need to remember, too, that Peter is still under a cloud after denying his Master three times. Nakedness is only for the innocent. So, the moment he hears the person on the shore is his Lord, shame and guilt make him cover himself. It is possible that all the others were naked also but had no reason to cover themselves. Very soon, however, there will be a reconciliation between Jesus and Peter.