Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you,
And to bear the cost
Of giving up our false self.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To follow you in all of life,
In the way of resurrection.
Season of Easter, Week Three
The Passover celebration is over, and the disciples are being freed from their paralysis and fear through the presence and insightful guidance of their crucified and now resurrected Savior, Jesus. He had told them to meet him in Galilee – home, a life time of fishing the lake, the familiar.
Read John 21:1-19 slowly, prayerfully. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you as you enter the narrative and are present to an intimate conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter.
As we enter this gospel narrative, we find ourselves beside the lake; it is early morning. Jesus has prepared a charcoal fire on the shore, and begun cooking some fish. Our gospel companions have been fishing all night—a fishing expedition initiated by Peter. In the early morning light Jesus calls to them, asking them if they have caught any fish. They had caught nothing.
“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some,” he replies. So they cast the net as he says, and find that the net is so full, they can not haul it in. John recognizes who stands on the shore: “It’s the Lord!” With sudden joy and relief, Simon grabs his tunic, jumps into the lake water and swims to shore.
There had been another time when Jesus had told him to go out into the deep, and to let down his net. He hadn’t caught any fish the night before either. And he was reluctant to try again. After all, he knew the lake. He had grown up on the lake, and knew when the fish were there to be caught, and when they weren’t. But Jesus had insisted, and so he had let down the net. And there had been a similar catch; so many fish that others had to help pull the net in. Suddenly he was engulfed by fear. Something in him had felt unable, unclean, unacceptable in the presence of this One who taught with such simple clarity, and knew more than he did about fish and the lake. Suddenly, all he had wanted was for Jesus to leave. That would solve his problem. He would no longer have to feel afraid and incapable, weak and sinful. But Jesus did not leave. He had looked at Simon Peter and said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” From time to time, that same flash of insight would open up a crack in the surface of Simon Peter’s strong and capable self, but each time he would refuse to own and name what was deep within him, and move on.
The work for Simon Peter was to become aware of the presence and the hold of this false, dominating self, and to discover the strength of the true self within, with its fear, loneliness, need, and its desire for intimacy and connectedness.
As he reaches the shore, the smell of fish roasting on the charcoal fire greets him, and he realizes how hungry he is after a full night’s work.
“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says. Here Jesus is the host, as well as the cook. He comes to these men in this familiar place beside the lake, offering comfort for body and for their soul.
After eating breakfast together, Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks him to come for a walk. Jesus opens the conversation, a conversation about loving. Jesus is not asking about strength. He does not mention Simon Peter’s betrayal, nor condemn this man who is the first to speak, often the first to initiate action, and repeatedly fails. Instead he asks:
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The setting of the conversation may evoke in this disciple the memories of his touching into fear and weakness; daybreak, the charcoal fire, the courtyard where cowardice held him in its grip. The power of this fear had kidnapped his loyalty and love for this beloved Rabbi. He had boasted that he would follow this One to death, but when asked, had denied that he even knew him. What kind of disciple was he? But now Jesus had returned from the dead. The death watch was over. He was back performing miracles of providing a great catch of fish again. Thus, in response to this first asking, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs,” says Jesus in response.
Jesus asks him a second time,
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
There is no mention of Peter here, rather an invitation to Simon to remember his human origin, to own his humanity—rather than to get caught up in the strong front of a rock-like leader.
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” he replies.
“Tend my sheep,” Jesus says in response.
Then Jesus asks again, a third time,
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
It is this insistent asking which finally gets through Simon’s tough exterior and finds its way into the great heart and soul of this man. Peter feels the pain of being asked the third time: the pain of not always being able to succeed—even as a fisherman; the pain of knowing he did not measure up to the gracious holiness which permeated the being of Jesus, the pain of knowing that he had boasted of great loyalty to this loving and self-giving Messiah, but at the first hint of threat had denied he even knew him. Finally he is able to stay with his pain, and just to be with himself—human, weak, fallible, limited, sinful.
Jesus had stayed with him all across these years, and walks beside him now—just as he is.
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Yes, Jesus does know everything about him. And now Simon Peter is beginning to know himself, even as he is known.
“Feed my sheep.”
(Miller, W.J. Jesus Our Spiritual Director.
Adapted from ch.13. Used by permission of
Upper Room Books.)
Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You come to us
On the lake shore of our life
Help me to see you
To be with you
To listen as you walk with us –
Help me to love you.
Season of Easter: Week Three
4/8 Monday: John 21:1-8
4/9 Tuesday: John 21:9-19
4/10 Wednesday: Psalm 30
4/11 Thursday: Acts 9:1-6,7-20
4/12 Friday: Revelation 1:4-8
4/13 Saturday: John 21:1-8
4/14 Sunday: John 21:9-19