After the Resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples. He stands on the shore and, because His resurrected body was transfigured, He could only be seen if He so willed. Thus, though they saw a man standing there, they had no knowledge initially that it was Him. As He repeats the miracle of blessing them with a large bounty of fish, it is worth noting that Jesus often revealed Himself in familiar ways after the Resurrection, that they might better grasp and believe that it was indeed Him.
Scripture tells us that John, the disciple who loved Him, was the first to recognize Him as the risen Christ. this stands to teach us an important truth, that it is through love for Christ alone which we can attain to spiritual insight. And then, upon John’s revelation, it is Peter who displays for us the great boldness of faith, plunging headlong into the sea and swimming towards Him. It is this faith that states, “though I could remain on the boat and eventually get to Him, nothing will keep me from Him any longer.” Notice that all of the disciples believed it was Him, all of the disciples had walked with Him and believed in the Resurrection, all of them had studied the Scriptures and knew the prophecies, and yet it is these two whom we are given as examples. The great love that allowed John to see Christ as He truly was, and the boldness of faith that caused Peter to abandon what seemed logical in lieu of what he knew to be miraculous.
Christ confronts Peter with a simple question. “Do you love Me?” To which Peter responds, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You.” It bears notice that thrice the Lord asks Peter this simple question. And it is not without consequence that He asks him these three times, for thrice Peter had denied Him, thus thrice he repents with this confession of love. It was a form of penance for Peter to confess this three times, once for each time of his denial. Thus, in this threefold confession of love, Jesus fully restores Peter.
John here ends his Gospel by declaring his purpose for writing it. That others, those who do not believe, could come to the faith by having a detailed description of these miracles that Jesus performed and things that He did. These detailed fragments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. However, he also makes a statement which can not be lightly overlooked. In his declaration of purpose, he states that “there are still many other things which Jesus did and said, which, “if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” We find a similar truth in the book of Acts, wherein St Paul, who never met Jesus in the flesh, quotes Jesus as having said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) a statement not recorded in any of the Gospel accounts of His life. Now, consider, having never met Jesus in the flesh, and having not been recorded in the Gospel, that this statement must have been one that Paul had received handed down orally from the Church.
It is of the utmost importance to realize this, because so much has been written in certain parts of Christendom about the authority of Scripture alone, and yet here are but two examples of times where the Scripture itself denies this stance. The Scriptures are the words of God, they are to be highly revered as such, but they themselves are not God. And we must be ever so careful here, because while we must never neglect the words of God or the value of the Scripture, we often make an idol out of it when we place the Scripture, the canon of which was determined in the fourth century, and altered in the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, above the Church which Paul tells us is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Scriptures themselves are inspired by God, and thus we must study them, but the Scriptures are not God, neither are they Christianity. God has given us them, and He has given us the Church as those who will help us to understand them, and we must never replace one with the other, but rather, like Philip and the Ethopian, allow the eyes of one to make clear the vision of the other.
It is through the teachings and the traditions of the Church that the words of Scripture can be truly understood, heeding the warning of St Peter that “no matter of prophecy is a matter of personal interpretation.” When we study the Scripture without the traditions, without the teachings of the Church to help us, we often put much more of ourselves into our interpretation, never actually realizing that it is ourselves we instead begin to worship. Our pride so often says that “we are right and the Church is wrong,” as though our one hour daily Bible reading has given us more wisdom and insight than two thousand years of holy, anointed, men of God, who lived, breathed, and even died for the faith.
Let us never fall victim to that pride, my beloved brethern. Let us never exalt our own wisdom and trust in our own understanding. Let us instead humbly concede that there are things beyond our own comprehension, and turn to those far wiser than us in those matters. I believe fully in the sufficiency of Scripture, in fact, I believe so fully in it that I will never trust my own finite mind to comprehend these infinite truths, and I refuse to disrespect the words of Scripture by trying to distill it all down to that which I myself can understand. We are the Ethopian in the story, we are Timothy, we are to be the ones to receive instruction from our spiritual fathers and obey them; else we may become merely lovers of self, believing only in that which we agree with and like. Someone once told me that their god would never…to which I asked, “does your god ever do anything that you don’t like?” His answer, honestly, was no. Thus, I had to ask him, “so who do you really worship?” The Scriptures were inspired by God and written by men to assist men in becoming like God, which requires going against a lot of our natural inclinations. If we read the Scripture and everything seems to fit with our lives, and none of it requires an interior change of heart, then there’s a good chance that we’ve allowed our own feelings into our interpretations, that we’ve allowed the spirit of the age into our theology, that we’ve walked away from the true faith and embraced idols.
I’ve heard it said that the traditions of the Church corrupt. I would argue that the traditions of the Church protect from corruption. When there is no tradition, then whatever is trending can easily be accepted into our doctrine; when we’ve got a two thousand year old tradition that we cling to, however, there is no room for corruption. It’s much harder to argue against two thousand years of tradition than it is to change a doctrine with no foundation aside from a personal interpretation of Scripture. Which is exactly why for over a thousand years, there was only one Church, and then it split is 1054 and became two churches, which lasted until 1517; and since the reformation, there have been spawned literally thousands of denominations. With no foundation of tradition, literally anyone who can read can start a new denomination, and teach whatever they choose. And we so oft wonder why so many say that “that’s what you believe, but that’s not what everyone believes.” And there is no room to argue that, because in absentia of tradition, there is no history to support our truth.
May we all be like the Thessalonians, to whom Paul offered the lesson, “hold fast to the traditions handed down, whether by word (oral tradition) or epistle (written word).” And let us all hold to the Scripture, understood by the light of the Church, interpreted by thousands of years of holy anointed men of God, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Let us not worship the interpretation of any one man, but rather look to the whole of Church history, to understand the faith handed down to us since the time of the apostles.
Christ is in our midst.