10 August 2009

John 21:1-19 – Some Observations

Sara J. Herwig

Imagine how the disciples felt after Jesus had died and was buried. There friend, their Teacher, their Messiah was gone from them. What were they to do now? Grief mingled with fear seemed to creep over then and immobilize them.

Some of the disciples were on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius, and Peter was among them. Peter had always been a man of action and strong words. Sitting around by the water was not something he was used to doing. So he told the others, “I’m going fishing.” Once again, Peter moves. It didn’t matter to him in what direction. He just had to do something. And what better thing to do than go fishing in the waters he had fished for most of his life and knew so well. It would be a comfort to be out on the sea again, casting the familiar nets into the water, and pulling in the fish. It would be familiar. Which one of us in times of grief and fear would not seek the familiar, the things that have always calmed and comforted us most? The things that too often keep us from doing the hard things God asks of us. Like Peter, many of us would want to do something, something to take our minds off the pain, even for just a little while.

The disciples were out on the water all night, but they caught no fish. They returned to the shore with nothing in the boat but themselves. And as they draw near to the shore, they saw a figure standing by a charcoal fire. As they drew closer the man spoke to them. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered, “No.” An answer that must have been a frustrating admission for Peter who had been a fisherman all his life. The man told them to cast the net to the right side of the boat and they would find some fish.

Peter must of thought this man was a bit off his rocker. They had been out all night. No one knew these waters better than he. But the disciples did as the man told them. And now, after no catch all night, they weren’t able to haul the net in because of all the fish. One of the disciples exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” Peter once again was moved to action. But this time there was purpose and direction. He put on some clothes, jumped in the water and swam to shore. Once he realized who it was who called him, he could do nothing else but go, no matter what hindered him.

The disciples arrived in the boat, and Jesus simply said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have caught.” And they sat by the fire and watched their teacher break the fish, cook them and offer it to them, as they had a hundred times before.

Then Jesus called Peter aside. He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, you know that I do.” And Jesus replied, “Feed my lambs.”

A second time Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” Again Peter answered, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” And Jesus replied, “Tend my sheep.”

Then a third time Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt, and probably a bit frustrated. Where was this all going? Peter replied, probably with the hurt and frustration in his voice, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” And Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.”

We are not told what Peter made of all this. But perhaps he recalled that on a cold night not so very long ago, he stood by another fire and was recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples. Three times he was asked if he knew Jesus. Three times he denied him. I don’t think the three repetitive questions Jesus asked Peter about love were meant to frustrate or hurt him. Here was a chance for reconciliation, for forgiveness. His three declarations of love for Jesus wiped out the three denials. And he was given a command to act on it. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Peter was to turn from fisherman to shepherd, to care for God’s people.

Those of us called to ministry are no different than Peter. We too have denied Jesus in one way or another. But there is reconciliation, and there is forgiveness. And even to us the command to tend and feed God’s people is given. The call is not easy. There are many things that block our way. Sometimes we feel that we have been on the lake all night with nothing to show for it. But then Jesus comes to us with forgiveness, a command for action, and gives us the strength to persevere and to help each other in the task of being God’s shepherds. May we each hear anew God’s call in our lives, and be disciples of action.

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