Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 21:1-14) transports me to a late night in Central Park, New York City, circa 1991, where Robin Williams is playing a psychotic homeless man named Parry, lying buck naked next to Jeff Bridges (clothed), who is in character as an alcoholic ex-radio celebrity named Jack. The two men are lying there watching the clouds pass over the full moon. These two “bungled and botched” characters are bound together in a common tragedy, and Jack is trying to find redemption by helping Parry, who hears voices other people don’t hear and sees visions other people don’t see. Wondering when his guilt will finally be atoned for, Jack says at one point in the movie, I just want to pay the fine and go home. Parry, sensing that all is not well in Jack’s world, but not knowing why, tells him a story. Did you ever hear the story of the Fisher King? It begins with the king as a boy having to sleep alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. While he’s spending the night alone he’s visited by a sacred vision. Out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace. A voice said to him, “You shall be keeper of the Grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty. And in this state of radical amazement he felt for a brief moment, not like a boy, but invincible. Like God. So he reached in the fire to take the Grail and the Grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire to be terribly wounded. Now, as this boy grew older his wound grew deeper. Until one day life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any men, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience. He began to die. One day, a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. And being a fool, he was simple-minded. He didn’t see a king. He only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “What ails you, friend?” And the king replied: ” I’m thirsty and I need some water to cool my throat.” So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water and handed it to the king. And as the king began to drink he realized his wound was healed. He looked and there was the Holy Grail that which he sought all of his life. He turned to the fool and said: “How could you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” The fool replied:” I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”
I wonder if the leadership team Jesus recruited didn’t have more in common with these dysfunctional characters from the Fisher King movie in their basic disposition and outlook on life than with the top shelf talent our typical middle class mainstream church recruits for its deacon board. After all, Peter and his cohorts were homeless, having left their jobs on a lark after hearing another homeless guy shouting their name, telling them they had bigger fish to fry. Their motley crew of fishermen and government collaborators and terrorist mercenaries attracted other homeless folks, some who were possessed by evil spirits causing them to hear voices and see things other people didn’t hear or see. And then, here in the final chapter of the story, after the resurrection, we see Simon Peter, sick with experience, thirsty for redemption but not knowing how or where to find it. He’s on an all night fishing expedition, sitting there buck naked with his friends, not catching a thing, maybe passing the time watching the clouds pass over the moon. When morning comes the risen Lord approaches the shoreline, gets within earshot of his friends, and, instead of making a big deal about conquering death and overcoming the grave, he acts like the fool in the fisher king story, detecting what is ailing the weary men. He offers them some basic fishing advice, as simple as offering a thirsty man some water. Try casting on the other side. They do, and their nets are filled. At least Peter has the presence of mind to put on some clothes before jumping in the water to join Jesus on the shore.
In reading the passage today, it occurred to me that the wonder of the miraculous catch of fish is the same as the wonder of the Fisher King discovering that the holy grail was on his bedside table. The grail, after all, is as Parry said, simply the symbol of divine grace. The wonder is that this grace is available to us, always. We can search and work for it all our lives, but it is there all along, maybe on our nightstand, or maybe on the other side of the boat. In our weariness, our unclothed and unvarnished vulnerability, we can hear the voice that others can’t hear, the voice offering us grace in a world of judgment, the voice offering us healing for the wounds and sickness of our experience, the voice offering us the water of Life. Jesus may not be at all interested in the secret hiding place of a magical mug, but he does know when we are thirsty.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.