Thursday, 22 October 2015

Why did Jesus eat the fish?

They gave Jesus a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:42-43

I’ve no idea what relation “broiled” fish has to the delicious deep-fried, fat-packed, cholesterol-filled stuff we get from our local chippie. But I bet it was tasty. 

Jesus spent much of his earthly life in a fishing community, and many of his first disciples earned their living that way - their clothes probably smelled permanently of fish. So why should it surprise us to read that they “gave him a piece of broiled fish”?

Well, the Jesus to whom they gave this food was the risen Jesus. The body into which he took it was his resurrection body. That, I think, makes you stop and ponder...

According to Luke it was the evening of the first Easter day when Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples. They were completely bewildered, even though they had heard the wonderful news from some who had already seen him. In fact they wondered if it might be a ghost rather than the real Jesus. So, in order to convince them, he showed them his hands and feet, he invited them to touch him - and then he requested from them something to eat. 

Showing them his hands and feet - yes, I can get that. Inviting them to touch him - yes, that too. But eating a piece of fish...? The more I think about it, the more odd and strange it seems. It raises all sorts of questions which prompt a little voice in my head saying (if you’ll pardon the cliché) “Don’t even go there!”

Did the resurrection body of Jesus need that food? Surely the answer must be no. All right. So what happened to that piece of fish? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but did the resurrection body of Jesus posses a digestive system which processed it in the normal human way - with all that that implies? Again, the answer must surely be no. So did the fish somehow dematerialise at some point? 

This is where that voice - “Don’t go there” - becomes rather pressing, and I am tempted to give up! Perhaps, in fact, that is the right thing to do. 

An easy way out, of course, is to dismiss the whole thing - even the very resurrection itself - as some kind of fable. But the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day raised again with a new body - indeed, a new kind of body - is so fundamental to the Christian story that that is an impossible route for a believing Christian to take. Take away the resurrection and there is simply no Christianity left.

So it seems we have to live with questions we can ask but never answer to our satisfaction.

The nature of Jesus’ resurrection body... I find myself wondering if I should even be pondering these mysteries: like Moses at the bush, we stand here on holy ground. But God has given us minds and imaginations, and presumably he wants us to use them, even when it comes to sacred things.

But in the end we have to hurry back, heads bowed, to the things we know, and the things which a story like this one suggests to us. And what are they?

First, the resurrection is not some tale made up to comfort the disciples in their sorrow at Jesus’ death, or in order to keep his memory alive in the world. No, it was a genuine physical event. Jesus ate the fish as a kind of graphic “visual aid” to help the disciples get the message. Death really has been overcome. A human being really has come back to life, never to die again. Hallelujah!

Second, when we die we do not become spooks or spirits, existing somehow without bodies. Read Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where he explains that here on this earth we possess earthly bodies fitted for our earthly existence. But when we are eternally raised we will be given new bodies - Paul calls them “spiritual bodies” - fitted for the new heaven and the new earth where we shall live forever, free of sin, pain, death, tears and sorrow. 

In comparison with this solid, earthy earth on which we live, “heaven” may seem unreal, colourless, insubstantial. But Jesus wanted his disciples to know that in fact it is the real reality, if you know what I mean. Hallelujah again!

Will our new bodies eat? We can only speculate. But given that food is one of the God-given pleasures of this life, and given that heaven is described in the New Testament as a feast or banquet, I like to think that, in some newly-appropriate manner, yes we will.

Perhaps all we ultimately need to know is, in the wonderful, simple words of John, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Hallelujah yet again!

Lord God, thank you for the wonderful mystery of Jesus crucified, risen and eternally alive. I don’t wish to pry into things too holy for me - but thrill my soul, I pray, with something of the sheer supernatural reality of these great truths. Amen.

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