The hallmarks of the early Christian community: Service, fellowship and feasting
On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve prisoners, reenacting Jesus washing the feet of the disciples before his crucifixion. Inspired by John’s story of the Last Supper, this practice is an act of love and a reminder of how all people, especially leaders, must devote themselves to the needs of others, especially those who are marginalized and underserved.
“Jesus came and took bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish” (Jn 20:13).
What can you do to better serve the world?
What is needed to be an effective leader?
What significance does belief in the resurrection have in your life?
According to John, after the resurrection, Jesus appears to a group of disciples as they are fishing at the Sea of Galilee. As the disciples fail to find any fish, Jesus gives instructions and blesses them with a large catch. Today’s Gospel echoes the multiplication of loaves and fish as Jesus miraculously enables the disciples to catch an overabundance of fish. The narrative may also sound familiar, as Luke has a similar story occurring early in Jesus’ ministry when he calls his followers.
The Gospel states that the disciples do not immediately recognize Jesus in appearance, which is also the case when Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ. Mary only recognized Jesus after he called her by name. The disciples in today’s Gospel only recognize Jesus after he teaches them, and they catch fish. Only then, the beloved disciple declares, “It is the Lord.” Jesus’ behavior reveals who he is, not his appearance.
That Jesus is routinely unrecognizable after the resurrection can help us think about what the resurrection means and how it shifts our understanding of Christ. Jesus’ physical presence is such that his followers do not see him in the same way. Moreover, Jesus reveals himself through his words and deeds, and the resurrection transforms how Jesus’ followers see him. By encountering the risen Jesus, the disciples strengthen their relationship with him and prepare for their own missionary work in light of the resurrection.
As the narrative continues, Jesus prepares breakfast for his followers. The narrative is detailed, suggesting that Jesus built a fire, cooked fish, invited the group to eat and shared food with them. Jesus serves his disciples, similar to the care he provided when washing their feet at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John does not have an account of Jesus breaking bread and sharing wine at the Last Supper, but in today’s Gospel, we see Jesus breaking bread and fish with his followers. This, too, echoes Jesus in Luke’s Gospel as he shares a meal of fish with his followers after the resurrection.
This tradition highlights service, fellowship and feasting, and Jesus infuses these principles into the early Christian community. Jesus strengthens his bond with his followers and models how to serve by preparing, sharing and nourishing the disciples. In the longer option for today’s Gospel, Jesus has a one-on-one encounter with Peter in which he says that if Peter loves him he must, “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep.” This instruction, especially to Peter whose selection by Jesus becomes the model for the office of the pope, has literal and metaphorical interpretive possibilities. As Jesus has just modeled feeding as a form of care and service, Jesus tells Peter to do the same for his community, sustaining and supporting the physical needs of his followers. Likewise, as a metaphor for leadership, Jesus instructs Peter to provide spiritual care and sustenance.
Today’s Gospel shows Jesus grounding the community of faith in service. Jesus speaks through his actions that benefit others, giving a model of service that all of us, especially leaders, should take seriously.