Third Sunday of Easter
Text: John 21:1-19
It’s an ordinary statement for a person who fishes for a livelihood to make. “I’m going fishing.” Even if it wasn’t a way of making a living, it wouldn’t be strange to hear someone who loves to fish say “I’m going fishing.” It’s like hearing a runner say, “I’m going running” or a surfer say, “I’m going surfing.”
Peter says, in the company of the apostles, “I’m going fishing.” Perhaps the problem with his declaration is that Simon Peter isn’t a fisherman any more. He’s an apostle.
Maybe Peter just wants to clear his head and go do something he knows, get his zen thing on, do some manual labor and wrap his head around everything that’s happened. But they spend all night out on a boat and their mojo is seriously off. They don’t catch anything. It’s demoralizing turn to something you love and find no success in it. It’s frustrating to turn to something you know you’re good at and find failure.
But sometimes we step out for a nice long run and our bodies shut down at mile three. Sometimes we sit down to relax and play a board game with our families and get mad because we keep losing over and over and over again at a game we knew about before they did—a game we know we’re better at playing. It’s downright frustrating!
I imagine Peter stewing all night long the boat; fuming, “I can’t even do THIS right and it’s what I’ve done my whole life! I failed Jesus, I failed my family when I left to follow Jesus, now I can’t even fish.”
As the sun begins to break, and the dark water turns to steel gray, bouncing back the early morning light that isn’t quite sunrise there’s a man on the shore who calls out to the boat, “Children, you have no fish, have you?”
Great, now a total stranger is pointing out that Peter’s a failure, too. Doesn’t he know what Peter’s been through the past few days? Why point out the obvious? But like any good criticism, the stranger doesn’t just say, “Hey that’s wrong.” He also offers a corrective measure. “Cast your nets over there!”
And it’s the jackpot. Not just a few fish. Lots and lots of fish. A catch so heavy they couldn’t bring it in. A catch so heavy that their net tears with the load.
And even if the one disciple hadn’t said, “It’s the Lord,” somehow Peter would have known. Peter is intuitive that way. And in the foolhardy, all or nothing way that Peter does his life with Jesus, he jumps into the water and swims to the shore.
After breaking bread with the disciples, Jesus asks, “Simon Peter do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks and three times Peter replies in the affirmative. It is frequently taught that Peter is being given the opportunity to redeem his three denials of Jesus.
Maybe Peter is being given the chance to believe in himself; to forgive himself and move forward in the task laid before him.
In the previous chapter of John’s gospel Jesus appears to the disciples and offers them peace. In that encounter he doesn’t rebuke Peter for his denials. Jesus doesn’t chastise the others for abandoning him. He offers them peace, breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, and sends them out with a proclamation of forgiveness; a message of reconciliation. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Maybe Peter still hadn’t forgiven himself and Jesus could see that. Maybe it was apparent in the desire to be in a boat all night, sulking about not catching any fish. So Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter says, “Yes.” The question isn’t meant to embarrass Peter; It’s not meant shame; it’s meant to get Peter to forgive himself, to believe in himself, and understand how much he is loved so that he will love back in the same way that he is loved.
Maybe that’s something we all need. Like Peter, maybe we have trouble believing in ourselves, maybe we have trouble forgiving ourselves.
If we look at the Table that is set week after week—if we look to the Eucharist, we have this continual reminder of the gift of love that has been given to us, and we have the continual reminder of the gift of the Holy Spirit breathed upon us and sealed within us and more than that, we pray that the spirit comes upon us and the gifts we offer in unison with Christ’s offering for us. We pray week after week that the Holy Spirit would bless us to be a blessing; that we would be sent (apostolos in the Greek..roughly speaking) as a reconciled people, with the message of reconciliation.