Sunday, May 5, 2019
Third Sunday of Easter
"Fishers of People"
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I remember spending days along the shoreline of the bay at Keauhou when I was a child growing up in Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. There were a few homes around the bay not far from where my maternal grandmother and my uncle ,whose English name I carry, are buried.
I have a vivid memory of my mother joining other family members to pick up wana or sea urchins from the nearby reef. My mother would carry a two-pronged device that was designed to scoop up and secure the sea urchins while keeping their sharp and prickly spines at a distance.
She would pick them up one at a time and drop them into a wire basket attached to an inner tube. Eventually the sea urchins would be brought to shore and emptied into a rectangular basket made out of chicken wire with wooden handles at both ends.
One person on each end of the basket would move it in a back and forth motion and with each motion the spines of the sea urchins would break off until it was safe to retrieve them by hand. My mother was good at cracking the bottom side of the sea urchin with an ʻiliʻili or beach rock. She would then retrieve the sea urchin roe and deposit the roe into a large mayonnaise jar, minus the mayonnaise.
Others would harvest ʻopihi or limpets and still others would catch a variety of fish with bamboo fishing poles, nets or spears – all of which would become part of a shared meal that included the wana. The fish would be broiled over an open flame – pūlehu we would say. And of course, there was always poi.
Somehow a meal that was shared at the beach always seemed special. I am not sure if it was the food or the company or the stories that were told as we ate together. But it was always a special time.
Our reading from The Gospel According to John recalls the beginnings of the church amid the preparations for a meal. The disciples encounter Jesus for the third time on the beach following the resurrection (John 21:14). “Jesus said to them, ʻ . . . you have no fish, have you?’ To which they [replied], ʻNo.’” (John 21:5).
He instructs them to cast their net to the right side of the boat. They do so and within minutes they are able the haul in an enormous catch of large fish. Upon returning to shore, they saw a charcoal fire. “Jesus said to them, ʻBring some of the fish that you have caught.’”
They brought the fish to him to pūlehu and then to share the fish with bread, no poi, in a breakfast meal. “That breakfast beside the sea (John 21:9-14) [in the presence of Jesus not only confirms that he had risen], it also recalls that some of the most meaningful moments shared during Jesus’s ministry was around meals” (Preaching through the Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holloday & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 242).
While Matthew, Mark and Luke do include John’s focus on the meal that Jesus shared with the disciples that day, they nevertheless all frequently show Jesus at table sharing a meal with others. It has been said in the early church, “eating together was always an occasion for experiencing the presence of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-24; Luke 24:28-34, 41-43). Fish and bread quickly came to have symbolic significance far beyond their value as staples of the common diet. Eating together confirmed and encouraged faith for living in the face of immense obstacles”(Op. cit.).
Sitting down to eat with my family at Keauhou Bay when I was a child would be far, far removed from the meal Jesus shared with the disciples not long after his resurrection in terms of its theological significance. But in both instances there was a level of intimacy that was filled with love.
That level of intimacy and aloha is something I came to experience after I left California and returned home to Hawai‘i in 1991 to serve the church here in Mākena. There were occasions when June and Bill would invite members of our church family to their home in Maui Meadows for dinner. They were people of a generous spirit whose love for the church and for Maui remained all through the years.
In the early years, June worked in our office as our church secretary. Bill served as a deacon and our life together was centered around worship. They were both faithful members of the church attending worship every Sunday.
“If the meal [Peter and the other disciples shared] with [Jesus] reflects early Christian worship, then worship was also a time to be confronted with [his] penetrating question: ‘Do you love me?’ (John 21:15-19) (Ibid., page 243). The exchanges between Simon Peter and Jesus reveal that “faith is a personal relationship” (John 15:1-8) and that relationship is expressed not only words but in obedience (John 14:15), an obedience made manifest in the ways the disciples demonstrated their love for Jesus by feeding and tending to others (John 10:1-17; 20:21).
With the fish and bread, Jesus fed the early disciples and then he called on them to feed others. So it is that we come to this table today to be fed and like the early disciples and like Bill and June, we are called to feed others and to become fishers of people.