After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ (NRSV).
The disciples have seen the resurrected Jesus on no less than two occasions by the time our reading begins. Understandably they seem somewhat unsure of what to do with these unexpected encounters.
But here they are turning back to – of all things – fishing.
It may seem like a strange response to the appearing of a risen friend. They have seen a glimpse of the glory and intent of heaven in these revelations. It looks like it would change everything. But here they are holding their long-lost – and frustratingly empty – nets.
They are, in the face of something so unknown, turning to the things they know. Peter’s suggestion to spend the night on the lake may simply have seemed as good an idea as any. Perhaps there is something very natural happening here.
But a night of no fish is a humbling experience. Maybe they do not know as much as they think – even about fishing. So much so that when an unrecognised stranger gives unsought advice, they quickly re-cast their nets. Maybe they have even forgotten their once prized local knowledge.
But this beach-walker does not remain unidentified for long. The long-sought pull on the nets causes the men to look again. John’s cry: ‘It is the Lord’ is all it takes for Simon to swim and the others to head for the shore.
And there they ate together with the one who overthrew death itself.
From beginning to end Simon Peter features prominently in this story. So perhaps it is not surprising that he is singled out for a private conversation with Jesus in the morning sun.
But Simon Peter has been singled out before. It may be less than a week since the haunting and predictive call of the cockerel indicated that another sleepless night was over. That sound must have sent his mind reeling back to Jesus’ warning of his coming denials. There has been no mention of the moment since.
And Jesus does not address it here – at least not directly.
Perhaps all we can really say is that Jesus’ three questions seem to restore and call one who – despite his willingness to dive from the boat – must have wondered how he would ever prove his allegiance again.
But here is Jesus graciously, clearly, and repeatedly entrusting his life’s work – his precious flock – to Peter’s care. It could only be either madness or grace beyond imagining – a wild, reckless, and brave love trusting against reason.
But Jesus seems to know that Peter will not deny this relationship again. Indeed, his final instruction to Peter indicates that this denier will one day prove that his public witness is more precious to him than life itself. Peter will do well the work of the one called ‘The Good Shepherd’.
It is a touching and terrifying account of the generous forgiveness of God.
But in essence the call has not changed at all since Peter was last on this shore. It remains as simple and profound as ever: ‘Follow me’.