So, now Jesus has appeared to the majority, if not all, of his disciples. Most of the recorded appearances, with the exception of Thomas, happened on that first day of the resurrection. But now, we are well into the forty days before Pentecost. After the encounter of Thomas, John writes that there were many other encounters with his disciples that aren’t recorded. However, he includes one more story before ending the book.
Peter, Thomas, James, John, a man named Nathanael, and two other disciples were together by the Sea of Galilee. Peter suggests they go fishing. Maybe it was to get a bit of money, maybe hunger, maybe nostalgia drove them to get out into the boat, but when they did, they didn’t catch anything.
And there appears Jesus on the shore. Of course, they don’t know it is him, but they engage in a conversation with him where he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. And when they did, they couldn’t pull it up because it was so full of fish.
John was the one who says, “It is the Lord,” but I wonder if that moment took Peter back to very early in his relationship with Jesus. In Luke 5, Peter, along with his brother Andrew, were on the shore cleaning nets when this rabbi comes with a large group of people. It’s so large the Jesus requests to get in Peter’s boat so that he could speak to the crowd. Peter obliges. After he speaks to the crowd, Jesus tells Peter to lower his nets after another unsuccessful fishing trip. Then, too, the nets were filled to capacity. It is then that Jesus offers to make Peter a fisher of men, and Peter follows him.
But as soon as John says, It is the Lord, Peter jumps out of the boat (which is also a habit he does around Jesus, though I think he just swam to shore this time instead of walking on water). Together on shore, Jesus eats with them, both fish and bread (another shout out to feeding the 5000?) And then he speaks to Peter, directly.
Three times, Jesus asks him if Peter loves him, and three times, Peter says yes. Later in the story, Peter turns and sees John following them, so this may have been a very private conversation between Peter and Jesus. By the third time, Peter is hurt that Jesus is asking, but I think it was important for Peter to make this statement three times after the three denials he made before Jesus’ crucifixion.
Imagine the guilt and shame Peter was holding onto then. The man who he swore to protect, to fight for, even cutting off the ear of a servant, ready for war, he denied even knowing. And when he realized what he had done, he wept bitterly. When Jesus rose, it wasn’t Peter who first saw him. I wonder if he thought he had irrevocably damaged his relationship with Jesus. Perhaps Peter entered that tomb on resurrection morning with the hope of reconnecting with the man he denied.
But in this quiet moment in the early morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was reinstating Peter as his beloved follower and apostle. He forgave Peter and reminded him of the bigger picture, to feed his lambs and take of his sheep, to be the servant to the lost and marginalized and forgotten that he knew Peter could be. A bigger picture he would share with the rest of the disciples before saying his final goodbye.
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