Bible Reading: John 21:1-19
What do you do what your whole world falls apart? Our news screens are often sadly full of people who have just witnessed and awful moment. Easter Sunday a time of optimism and hope was hard in the light of the terrible time our sisters and brothers were having in Sri Lanka.
We are with the disciples today. Who in the light of all the terrible things they had seen are also trying to come to terms with it. And they do what people often do – go back to something that they know well and the everyday routine of their lives. In their case – that was about going back to fishing. The safe option. Something that is so automatic that they don’t have to think about it. They are numb and this is one way to cope
And that is where we find them. In their usual haunt doing what they know best. There is also the very pragmatic need to earn money to feed the family.
Yet being back in the same place somehow didn’t work. There they were old hands and knew these waters very well. A lifetime of expertise in a particular place. They also knew that night time was best for fishing here. I guess they might have been frustrated and angry that somehow the usual isn’t working.
And then they see someone in the distance. Like Mary in the garden they don’t recognise who it is. There is that line “children you have no fish have you?” I find that sentence curious. I wonder what the tone was. It could be concerned or it could be quite harsh and rub salt in the wound that as experienced fishermen they haven’t done the most basic part of their job.
Yet even if their professional pride was dented they listened and did what was asked of them. And it did make a difference. A large number of fish and in that moment (like the moment with Mary at the tomb) they know. There is that sudden realisation.
It might have been easier for Peter if like some of the other appearances that Jesus vanished. But that wasn’t the case. He is there and stays and waits for Peter and the others to arrive back at the shore. And there is the charcoal fire on the shore. The last time we heard about one of those was when Peter was warming himself before he denied Jesus 3 times. That is a poignant reminder of the story of Peter so far….it must have been so painful to be reminded and to know that this would always be part of his story.
This is a reminder perhaps of forgiveness in its most extreme. Peter betrayed J to his death and yet here he is being offered friendship and breakfast. We are all in need of this radical forgiveness. Forgiveness is accepting that we can’t change the story or the history and coming to terms with it. That is Peter’s challenge here. And ours too. We have to know that we all have our own stories that we have to live with and know that despite that we are accepted fully by God.
Also there is the reminder that our own efforts are often rather hopeless. We can feel that we too are toiling all night with little effect. Perhaps we need to stop and listen to the one who called us in the first place. Yet we are so busy doing the “work of God” that we don’t listen to God.
Jesus is already cooking fish on the shore when they turn up with the mega load (enough for a whole community) So perhaps he didn’t need their contribution yet he still accepts it and works with it.
And yet this story is only warm up. It seems that John is telling us all this to set the scene for the conversation that follows on the shore between J and Peter. It’s a spectacular interchange that goes very deep into this area of forgiveness. J doesn’t say “I forgive you” he gives him a job to do. Feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep.
These 3 questions correspond to the ones that Peter denied not so long ago. They were probably both reliving the agony of that night. Yes transformation has come and Jesus is the lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world including Peter’s.
You might be aware that each time Jesus asks if Peter Loves him Peter replies using a different word for “love” to the one that Jesus uses. Greek has a few words for love and it is only in the final of the 3 questions that J swaps to use the same word as Peter. Jesus is adapting to where Peter is and starting from there.
Each of the times Peter replies then there is a command. A task to do. A fresh commission. Jesus utterly trusts Peter to do this work despite his history. Jesus is sharing the most important work there is with him. Jesus is the great shepherd who leads and feeds the sheep. He knows them and keeps them safe. And Peter is asked to be part of this task.
All of us too are invited to share in God’s work. That is what we are asked to do. Whatever your role in life and work all of us are called to be part of this. It doesn’t have to be a formal calling (licensed ministry) it is to be part of what God is doing however that looks for you.
So listen to the voice on the shore….and do whatever he tells you to. Who knows where that might lead. Amen