The scene: the disciples have gone back to fishing – not much else to do now that Jesus is gone. They go back to the world they know, perhaps trying to make sense of the world that had totally unravelled and mystified them, the world in which they glimpsed the son of God. Fitting for their mood, the fishing trip is fruitless (or perhaps more aptly, fishless). So often the way – when you feel at your lowest, it seems even more so that everything you do screams out failure. Back to the story. The disciples see a lone figure on the shore who calls out the question eternally put to fishermen – “caught anything?”. It is not hard to imagine the flat reply. “Nothing”. The man calls out “try your net on the other side”. If I were in the boat, I would be a bit cheesed off at this point. Already miserable, and feeling a failure at the one thing that I used to be good at, and here’s someone who is not even out in the water, telling me what to do. The disciples give it a go – nothing to lose I guess. And they struggle to bring in the fish. John realises that it is Jesus on the shore. Passionate Peter, the impetuous one, plunges into the sea to swim to shore, to Jesus. They eat, and then there is a wonderful conversation between Jesus and Peter. Now as someone more than occasionally given to sarcasm, I could easily imagine Jesus having a bit of a joke with Peter here. A little reminder about the crowing of a rooster, a toasty fire. Cock-a-doodle-doo, Peter. An “I told you so” moment of incredible proportions. Jesus asks Peter simply, “Do you love me?” Three times. Once for each time the rooster crowed. Once for each time Peter denied his Lord. Three times Peter responds with a proclamation of Jesus knowledge of Peter’s love for him. I can imagine Peter’s heart breaking as he says the words that are the very opposite of those uttered by a fireside and marked by a rooster’s crow. Jesus meets Peter’s response with acceptance, a reinstatement of Peter’s purpose, an entrusting of those whom Jesus loves – “Feed my sheep”.
This post was prompted by (and borrows from) Geoff Bullock’s story “The Beach”, in ‘Australian Stories for the spirit‘. He writes at the end:
“it may take us a lifetime of fishing to realise that there is a figure waiting on our shoreline, waiting for us to recognise who he really is. Waiting for us to turn from ‘earning’ to ‘accepting’. We can choose to look away, humiliated by our inadequacy; we can refuse his identity, preferring to retreat into our own concepts of how God should deal with us; we can bury our hope in activity. But that will never change who he is, what he has done and what he expects of us.”
Well said Geoff.