John 21:1-25John is telling us about this encounter on the beach, the third time that Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection. Here they are all gathered together, not really knowing what is coming next, Jesus has risen, and they are waiting. Peter, always the same Peter, he gets restless and says, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going fishing.” It was what he knew. It was what he was doing that first time that Jesus called to him, “follow me.” So much about this story reminds us of that initial calling: these men together, doing ordinary daily work, fishing to bring in food and some extra to sell at market. They are not having a very easy time of it. Here they have fished all night, and they caught nothing. So what does Jesus do? Does he come and shout from the shoreline, “you can do it; just keep plugging away; hang in there!?” No, he comes and stands there waits for them to see him and says, “Haven’t you caught anything yet?” Then he tells them to lower their nets on the right side of the boat. And their nets were almost overcome with fish. It is at this point that their minds are starting to itch; there is something familiar about this scene.
And John himself leans over to Peter and says, “I got it, it’s Jesus!”
Peter, again just plain old Peter, so consistent, throws on his outer garment and jumps in the water to swim to shore. It was his idea to go fishing, and he was probably the one who was most disappointed with the lack of fish, and overjoyed with the huge catch of fish, but when he hears that it is Jesus, he leaves it all again to make a beeline right for his master. Jesus has the fire going, the breakfast bread is there on the stones beside the flames, there is fish on to cook. Jesus had fixed them breakfast. Jesus invites them to add their fish to the fish he already has cooking, and they enjoy a nice breakfast together, these companions who have shared so much.
Jesus is still coming to us in our everyday lives. He is still calling us out of our old unproductive ways of living into his life. Imagine if the disciples in that boat would have said, “No thanks, we’ve always fished over the left side of the boat.” What would they have missed, not just the catch of a lifetime, but a chance to sit and eat a Messiah-baked breakfast. And the miraculous thing about the catch is that even though the amount of fish almost overwhelmed them, the nets didn’t tear or rip. When Jesus gives us an abundance, he also provides for the care of it. Sometimes we wonder what we will do in our lives if God does not come through, other times we worry about what we will do if he does. Remember that saying “God can handle the consequences of our obedience,” well it is also true that God can handle the consequences of his blessings for us.
After their meal, Jesus talks with Peter. And here Jesus calls him by his given name, he says “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” This is important because Peter had betrayed Jesus and now needed to understand the full extent of the grace available for those who would believe. It didn’t matter that Peter had betrayed him, Jesus still loved him. Jesus, in fact, told Peter before he betrayed him that he would deny Jesus three times. Jesus knew Peter. Jesus had called him out of his fishing boat, salty and smelling like fish. Peter was the one asking Jesus to explain those crazy parables so he could understand. So we have him to thank for being able to understand many of them ourselves. It was Peter who said, “Tell me to come out to you on the water.” And it was Peter who first confessed, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” But Peter was also the one who sank in the waves of doubt; who told Jesus he would never let him be crucified—to which Jesus had to reply, “Get thee behind me Satan”; it was Peter who interrupted the holy moment on the mount of transfiguration by offering to build shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Peter had made Jesus laugh and groan, and if it were possible for Jesus to be embarrassed, Peter would have been the one to do it.
Jesus loved this burly fisherman, he had a plan and purpose for him, and Peter needed to know that. So Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John do you truly love me more than these?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs.” Then he asks again, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” And Peter says again, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you!” Jesus tells him, “Take care of my sheep.” And Jesus asks a third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter is beginning to panic, “Lord you know all things and you know that I love you.” Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus is bringing him in as an under-shepherd, as a leader for his people. Jesus himself is still the Great Shepherd, but he is about to physically leave the earth and he is handing some responsibility for looking after his sheep to Peter. For the three times that Peter denies Jesus, Jesus asks him if he loves him. But then instead of leaving it at that, Jesus says, “I have a job for you to do.” It is important that Peter loves Jesus, but the reason it is so crucial is because Peter is to provide leadership in the days to come. And things are going to get harder than anyone could possibly imagine. Jesus tells Peter that as part of his role of feeding those sheep and caring for those lambs, Peter will one day be led away and killed.
The questions are not for Jesus sake, they are not for his peace of mind, these questions are for Peter. Jesus asks so that in those difficult days Peter could look back and say, “No, I really do love Jesus,” and continue in his struggle to care for the fledgling church. But Peter is still not perfect, he is willing, he loves Jesus, but God will continue to grow and mature him through the pages of the New Testament, and even until his death.
Peter sees John, and just like a brother, asks, “What about him?” And Jesus says, “If I have other plans for him, what is that to you? You follow me.” So often we are tempted to compare ourselves with others around us. We want to have what they have. We want to be able to do what they do. We want our lives to have the blessings theirs have, without seeing the bumps along the way. Peter had a tough road in front of him, but so did John. Both faced persecutions and imprisonment and the threat of martyrdom. But John’s path was not for Peter, and Peter’s path was not for John. They each had a unique place, a unique role, and because they were both obedient to follow Jesus, we have access to this glorious message of the gospel!
With a reassurance from the writer of this gospel that he indeed does not believe himself to be immortal, putting that rumor to rest once and for all, and a confirmation of the authenticity of the testimony given that the book of the gospel of John is closed. But the story does not end there. John says if everything that Jesus did were written down it would take all the books in the world, and that was almost 2000 years ago.
The story continues on, even beyond the pages of the New Testament. Even until today. I don’t know where life finds you right now. I don’t know if you are still fishing in that world-focused way of life that we follow before we meet the risen Christ for the first time. I don’t know if you have headed back to fishing to fill in the time until God decides to move again in your life. I don’t know if you find yourself in a place of having forsaken, or abandoned a faith that once you thought could never be shaken only to find it missing in a time of difficulty. Wherever you are, Jesus is calling to you today to come. He is saying come to me, if it is for the first time for salvation, come. He is saying come to me, if you have slipped back into old habits and old ways of life and you need to remember what it is to walk with me in Spirit and Truth, come. He is saying come to me, even if you have turned away from faith, come, and find restoration, find your purpose, find your hope in me. Just come.