“BY HOOK AND BY CROOK”
John 21: 1-19
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
April 10, 2016
Years ago I was leading a confirmation class. There were about 8 or 9 teenagers in the room and they were working together to complete some unfinished phrases. One of the phrases was, “I believe Jesus was raised from the dead because…” This prompted some interesting discussion and a variety of answers. One of the answers that has stuck with me was from a 13 year old boy who said, “I believe Jesus was raised from the dead because he still had work to do.”
I’ll admit, at first the answer ruffled me a bit. Wasn’t Christ’s work sufficient for all? Was this implying he had not run his race and completed his mission? Of course once I thought about it, I knew I was wrong for we believe Christ will come again to judge and redeem the world. Until then, as the boy had understood, there is, indeed, unfinished business.
This 21st chapter of John offers a piece of that unfinished business. Just before this story it really seems like the gospel is over. It sounds like John is done writing. Chapter 20 ends with these words: “[This has all been] written so that through believing you may have life in his name.” It certainly sounds like he has completed his gospel and is signing off. The epic now at an end. But it doesn’t end there and thank God it doesn’t because there is unfinished business. If it ends at Chapter 20, then Peter is just a liar and a coward. If it ends there, he is a failure. Because of Chapter 21, Peter gets another chance to see Jesus, to talk to him and to make things right.
But finishing his business does not look like we might expect. Jesus does not demand answers or offer any himself. He does not rebuke Peter. Instead Jesus offers breakfast and comfort. He does not spend this last time together answering any deep theological questions. He does not answer why suffering happens, why his own suffering happened. He is not interested in any of that. His unfinished business is Peter himself. Three years before Jesus called Peter out of his fishing boat and told him he would be hooking his line for people from now on and not for trout. Now, when Peter has fallen so badly, he returns to fishing. The hook has not held. So Jesus finishes his business by offering Peter the crook as well.
“Tend my lambs,” he says. “Feed my sheep.” When Peter runs from the hook of his calling, Jesus offers him a second call, the crook of a shepherd who tends and cares. Jesus’ unfinished business is to offer him a job. Why? Because, by hook or by crook, Jesus will not let Peter fail. He will do whatever it takes to save him.
Few people have ever needed saving like the disciple Peter did. Only two disciples are pulled out and called by name in preparation for that whole horrible weekend of betrayal, arrest, trial and death on a cross. Only two: Peter and Judas. And Judas has killed himself; that is how much he could not face his sin. Now there is only Peter. Peter fell asleep when Jesus needed him. Peter ran when things got scary. Peter denied ever knowing Jesus, not once but three times. Peter is not there at the cross. He has to be told to come to the early morning tomb. Peter is a failure. He is in need of saving. Whether by hook or by crook, Jesus is determined to find a way.
Strange phrase that is: “by hook or by crook”. Dictionaries tell us it is a very old phrase. Maybe even as early as the 1300s. No one knows where it came from although theories abound as to what it could refer to. The most promising theory is that it referred to how many branches peasants could pull from a tree. They could pull as many as they could reach with a hook or with their shepherd’s crook. Whatever its beginnings, it came to mean: do whatever it takes. As old as dictionaries say the phrase is, I think we should go back even further. Because Jesus uses it on Peter. If the hook doesn’t work, then maybe the crook. Whatever is necessary, that is what Jesus is willing to do because, for him, Peter is worth it.
What is it that has held you? Is it the hook or is it the crook? For some of us, we are saved by Jesus because of that first call, early in our lives, when Jesus told us to share what we knew about God and changed our lives to do it. For others of us, Jesus saved us once the world had fallen in and we knew we were broken but he gave us a job to do and, in the job, he also gave us a future. Was it the hook in the beginning or the crook later on? Or was it something else altogether?
In our house, we have just finished reading the book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” If you remember its plot, four siblings enter a magical world through a closet or wardrobe. Three of the four siblings are horrified by the terribleness of the White Witch who has taken over the land. But one of them, Edmund, is entranced by her. His devotion leads him to betray his brother and sisters and to put everyone’s life in danger, especially his own.
At the end of the book, the Witch is ready to claim what is rightfully hers: the life of Edmund. But the great lion Aslan trades himself for Edmund. The witch agrees to the trade and she, along with her minions, kill the true king.
When we finished that particular chapter, the one where Aslan is lying dead on the Stone Table, Calum asked: “Why did he die? Why did he let the Witch kill him?” I reminded him of the deal he made with the witch, how he traded his own life for Edmund’s. Calum said: “But Edmund was mean and he lied. He wasn’t worth it.”
But that is the point of Chapter 21 of course. The point is that, even if no one else thinks you are worth it, Jesus does. By hook or by crook, by the cross, by God, Jesus will keep at it, doing whatever is necessary, until he finds a way. Because Jesus’ unfinished business is you. And, for him, you are always worth it. Amen.