Welcome to our virtual book club! We're reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.
Chapter 24: Tiberias
Jesus A Pilgrimage has been a wonderful read and I am really sad it is ending. It has been 478 pages of pure bliss: spiritual growth, many “ah ha!” moments and intellectual “back-and-forth” as I dialog with my book. I had a chance to see Fr. Martin this past Thursday but had to bow out at the last minute because I lost my wallet (since found) and while I was sorry I couldn’t go, spending time with his book proved to be more than satisfactory as the consolation prize.
Chapter 24 takes us to shore where Peter and the other disciples have gone out fishing. Father Martin mentions that it is hard to tell in the gospels whether the disciples have seen Jesus since his resurrection; perhaps this is the first time. At any rate, the disciples were filled with confusion, guilt and grief; perhaps a return to the familiar role as fishermen could help them sort through their thoughts and feelings by way of meaningful work.
Except the work wasn’t working out the way they planned: they couldn’t catch any fish. Jesus appears on the shore just after daybreak and calls to them, observing their frustration. While the disciples may not have recognized Jesus by his appearance, they knew his voice just as the sheep know the voice of their shepherd. It made me wonder when Peter heard the voice of the Lord if he had a déjà vu moment before realizing who was standing on the shore.
Peter’s impetuous acts have always endeared him to me; his love and zeal are spontaneous. Upon realizing it was the Lord, Peter jumped into the water and swam towards his friend; he couldn’t get there fast enough:
“But it was Peter who joyfully and impetuously leaps into the water … his actions are a physical profession of his faith.”
Father Martin suggests it was desire as well as faith: Peter loved Jesus and missed his company. I found this to be quite touching. Sometimes I feel myself longing for Jesus, wanting to be in his presence and experience his companionship. It’s usually during these times when words escape me.
He mentioned the odd number of fish – 153 to be exact and offered several reasons for this figure. The simplest explanation usually is the answer: they counted the fish. I imagined them all on the beach, laughing, rejoicing that Jesus was with them. I saw the Lord in my mind’s eye, kneeling down with them to count and sort the catch, perhaps tossing fish around playfully with them. The disciples, beside themselves with emotion, perhaps found the act of counting the fish a satisfying means of expressing their feelings. Tending to the catch meant that fishing had not been in vain, serving the metaphor for their lives not being in vain for having followed Jesus.
The section about forgiveness was beautiful. Peter seems to have understood that he was forgiven because he so readily approached the Lord. Father Martin calls it a “leap of faith.” It is not enough however for Peter to simply approach Jesus; now he had to accept the challenge. Did he really love him? Father Martin points out that the Greek translation uses two forms of the word love: agape (for universal, selfless love) and the more personal philein (brotherly love). He understood Peter’s needs and limitations, as did Peter himself. Peter knew he was a broken man but he wanted to be made whole. Jesus, by asking three times if Peter loved him, gave Peter the chance to embrace the idea of moving beyond his limitations to a lifetime of loving and serving others. This commitment would heal Peter and make him the outstanding first leader of the Lord’s Church.
I'll conclude this post with a song I wrote several years ago called “Simon, Son of John” about this encounter which I performed on EWTN’s Backstage:
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- Do you ever find yourself longing to be in the company of Jesus? How do you spend time with him?
- How do we deal with discouragement in our lives? Does it feel sometimes that all we do is in vain? How can spending quiet time with Jesus change that feeling?
- Do you find it hard to forgive? What do you do to overcome that feeling?
Chapter 25 Amen
In this brief chapter Father Martin issued a challenge:
"I pray that this book, limited as it is, will prompt you to explore more about Jesus."
I am taking up that challenge in the form of spiritual writing exercises. If I were to look upon Jesus A Pilgrimage as a novel, I would focus on all the different characters I met along Father Martin's journey to the Holy Land. The demoniac, restored to sanity by someone who was willing to risk being with him. Zacchaeus, the short man with the heart bursting from transformation. The blind man at the Pool of Bethseda, pulled from the mire of despair to a world filled with light. Bartimaeus, whose desire for healing and wholeness caused him to toss his old life away in the form of a treasured cloak. Mary Magdalene, the faithful one, the first to see the Risen One and longed to cling to him. Thomas, the privileged one who was invited to touch the wounds which healed his grief and restored his faith. Peter: impetuous, loving, weak, guilty and forgiven.
And Jesus, fully human: working as a traveling carpenter, learning who he was, rejected by his kin, tired at times and needing quiet and rest, tormented at times by doubt and temptation, deeply moved and often inspired by the people he met, reaching critical mass as the last moments of his life approached.
And Jesus, fully divine: resisting the temptations he experienced as a man. Discerning and bestowing exactly the right form of healing to each person in need. Transcending societal tradition to bring women into his inner circle. Offering peace and forgiveness to the outcasts of the world, the weak who could not stand by him, and the friend who denied him. In constant communion with his Abba. Submitting to the will of his Father to suffer betrayal, loneliness, abandonment, mocking and extreme physical pain. Rising again to a dazzling new life that made him unrecognizable until he called his friends by name to his side.
Jesus A Pilgrimage brought me into the inner circle and introduced me to many new friends, friends that I want to explore in more detail by writing about them. I look forward to what I will learn from this wonderful form of prayer sparked by this book.
Thank you, Father Jim. Amen indeed!
To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
- What action has this book inspired in you in getting to know Jesus? How will you carry it out?
Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week's reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.
This concludes our book discussion of Jesus A Pilgrimage. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.
Copyright 2014 Susan W. Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.